Bo’s clips: Fort Worth’s new urbanist approach works downtown but struggles in poor, minority neighborhood

Uneven road to renewal: Fort Worth debates success of urban villages

By Cathy Hirst       Fort Worth Star-Telegram      November 10, 2013

FORT WORTH — Less than a decade ago, the West Seventh Street corridor was largely a mix of warehouses, small businesses and old homes west of downtown and the Trinity River.

But after a major makeover that included the transformation of the old Montgomery Ward building, the area that connects downtown and the Cultural District is now a bustling urban village, a pedestrian-friendly mix of trendy apartments, shops, bars and can’t-miss restaurants.

Part of a citywide funding plan to breathe life into blighted areas, West Seventh quickly became the poster child for a successful urban village.

Only 15 minutes away, on Fort Worth’s east side, residents of Stop Six hoped for a similar renaissance when their historic area was designated an urban village in 2005. The community launched a $50,000 study of infrastructure needs and potential economic development.

But nearly 10 years later, Stop Six is still a project-in-waiting with sparse street lighting, run-down infrastructure and few sidewalks. A dilapidated, abandoned Dairy Queen, which is expected to be demolished this month, is the center of the neighborhood.

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Austin housing bond measure passes

By Sarah Coppola       Austin American-Statesman       November 6, 2013

Austin’s $65 million bond measure for affordable housing prevailed by 60.4 percent, or 39,878 votes out of more than 66,000 cast, according to official results just released by the Travis County clerk’s office.

That outcome appeared all-but-certain on Tuesday night, with the votes tallied from most of Austin’s voting locations. But election officials were still counting votes from a few precincts in Williamson County.

As we explained in a story this morning, the city plans to use the $65 million to build, renovate and repair an estimated 2,800 units of housing that will be rented or sold at below-market rates. Those units could include apartments, condos and single-family homes.

U.S. seeks $864 million from Bank of America after fraud verdict

By Nate Raymond and Jonathan Stempel        Reuters       November 9, 2013

The U.S. government urged that Bank of America Corp pay $863.6 million in damages after a federal jury found it liable for fraud over defective mortgages sold by its Countrywide unit.

In a filing late Friday in the U.S. District Court in Manhattan, the government also asked for penalties against Rebecca Mairone, a former midlevel executive at the bank’s Countrywide unit who the jury also found liable, “commensurate with her ability to pay.”

The government said the penalties were necessary to punish the bank and Mairone “and to send a clear and unambiguous message that mortgage fraud for profit will not be tolerated.”

Bank of America and Mairone were each found liable for defrauding government-controlled mortgage companies Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac through the sale of shoddy loans purchased from Countrywide in 2007 and 2008.

The case centered on a mortgage lending process at Countrywide, which Bank of America bought in July 2008, known as the “High Speed Swim Lane,” or alternatively “HSSL” or “Hustle.”

The government said Countrywide’s program emphasized and rewarded employees for the quantity rather than the quality of loans produced, and eliminated checkpoints designed to ensure that loans were sound.

The penalties the government requested are slightly higher than the amount lawyers in the office of Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara had previously indicated they would seek, $848.2 million. The amount is based on the gross loss Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac incurred on the HSSL loans, the government said.

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Taxpayers close to breaking even on Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac bailout

By Margaret Chadbourn        Reuters       November 7, 2013

Government-run Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, America’s biggest providers of housing will send the U.S. Treasury $39.0 billion in December, leaving them within a hair of paying back their 2008 bailout.

Freddie Mac said on Thursday it will pay $30.4 billion in dividends after a multibillion-dollar tax-related windfall fueled a record profit in the third quarter.

Its larger sibling and fellow state ward Fannie Mae said it would make an $8.6 billion payment.

The companies, which own or guarantee about two-thirds of all U.S. home loans, were seized by the government at the height of the financial crisis as mortgage losses threatened their solvency. They are now seeing profits surge as housing rebounds.

When Freddie Mac makes its payment in December, it will have returned all of the $71.3 billion it received in taxpayer aid, and an additional $9 million. Fannie Mae’s dividend will leave it about $2.2 billion shy of the $116.1 billion it received.

“We are quickly approaching the point when taxpayers will receive a positive return on their investment in this company,” Fannie Mae Chief Executive Tim Mayopoulos told reporters during a conference call. “That’s obviously very good news for taxpayers.”

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Manufacturing Solutions

It’s time to take factory-built homes seriously as affordable housing. 

By Winton Pitcoff         Shelterforce        November 7, 2013

Three years ago, Natividad Seefeld was living in her mobile home in Park Plaza, Fridley, Minnesota, paying rent to the owner of the land it sat on with no guarantee that the following month wouldn’t bring news of a rent hike or the sale of the property and possible eviction. Today she is the president of the resident-owned cooperative that holds title to the land the community sits on, making mortgage payments along with her neighbors and safe in the knowledge that the site will remain her home for as long as she wants.

Seefeld’s is one of a growing number of success stories where residents are gaining ownership of their communities and their futures, thanks to a number of organizations that recently recognized the untapped potential of the millions of manufactured homes in addressing the affordable housing crisis, and the role residents can play in that transformation.

Manufactured Housing and Its Challenges

The thought of manufactured housing conjures up images of rows of trailer-homes on wheels, and that’s just what they were through the 1960s. The manufactured home industry has changed dramatically since then however.

HUD regulations implemented in 1976 imposed construction and safety standards on manufactured housing that ultimately moved the industry away from metal-on-metal travel trailers to today’s factory-built frame homes that conform to the same building codes as, and look much like, site-built houses, with asphalt-shingled roofs and vinyl siding and windows. These houses can often be manufactured less expensively than comparable site-built houses, and with greater energy efficiencies.

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