Friday, July 30, 2010

Around the Block, TGIF Edition

Someone's Seeing Skies Of Blue It wouldn’t be Friday without leaving you some good news to welcome in the weekend. The Milken Institute released a report forecasting a strong recovery, despite the many naysayers.  We’ll just let the pictures do the talking and keep the positive energy flowing for as Robert Shiller wisely said, “fear of a double-dip recession could cause one.” 

A Love/Hate Relationship With all this talk of financial reform, the future of the GSEs has been the hot topic of the week. Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson throws in his two cents as to what should be done and why financial reform was a long-time coming.

Take a Walk on the Wild Side Lack of animal instinct could be to blame for the sluggish recovery of the economy, according to a WSJ article. The economy is in desperate need of leaders who possess an intangible Kenyon quality best known as “animal spirits.” The Keynesians describe this spirit as “a spontaneous urge to action rather than inaction, and not as the outcome of a weighted average of quantitative benefits multiplied by quantitative probabilities.” Or in layman’s terms, we need people with some serious mojo. 

A Tip of the Hat We wanted to take the time to thank all of you who contacted your Representatives and stopped numerous amendments from being offered and/or accepted as part of the FY11 HUD appropriations bill. This serves as an important message that housing is not only a national priority but a human right which our country is starting to recognize. We want to also recognize NHC member the National Low Income Housing Coalitions inspiring outreach campaign that no doubt contributed to Democrats withdrawing the most harmful HUD amendment.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Around The Block, It Takes Two Edition

At a Glance The WSJ says low mortgage rates aren’t enough to make most buyers tango.

Feds’ Favorite Mistake? Former Federal Reserve chairman Paul Volcker, a proponent for stricter bank regulation, calls the GSE’s an “unfortunate invention” in a recent interview with

$84 Billion Question On the heels of financial reform, Jonathon Weil asks why no official investigation has been launched into the meltdown of Fannie and Freddie in 2008.

Equal Opportunity Foreclosure USA Today reports on how even once credit-worthy homeowners have fallen victim to foreclosure. Specifically, foreclosures of “jumbo loans” over $700K have increased nearly 600%.

PACE-Gate, cont: Rebel With a Green Cause Sonoma, CA is the first county in the nation to push back against the federal agency who is trying to stop the PACE green energy home loan initiative.

When to Wake the Giants?

After receiving masses of input from the housing and finance industries and the broader public, the administration has announced a conference on August 17th to discuss the future of home loan funds. With Wall Street reform leaving Fannie and Freddie to their own devices, the next challenge in Washington is figuring out how to overhaul the giant government-sponsored enterprises (GSEs), without toppling affordable housing finance as we know it.

The government has taken a careful approach to a January 2011 deadline, imposed by the Wall Street reform law, to propose specific GSE reforms.

The administration has been hinting at shifting housing finance over to the private sector. Whether that means cutting Fannie and Freddie off from government conservatorship completely or just reducing their market share, the transition will need to progress with a steady hand and ginger step. Barry Zigas, a member of NHC’s Executive Committee, is happy with what he’s hearing from administration leaders so far.

Although reform is still a long way off, for a while the administration has been signaling a break from the singular focus on homeownership, and placing more value on rental housing.

The upcoming conference will be the first poke in eventually upending the entire housing finance system. We can only hope the giants wake up on the right side of the bed.

Image: Odysseus, protagonist of Homer’s Odyssey, pulls a fast one on the Cyclops. In coloring picture form via It’ll be up to the gov’t to color between the lines.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Around the Block, Homeless in Hollywood Edition

At a Glance If the administration’s monthly housing “scorecards” have seemed a little too upbeat to you so far, it might be in part because of some questionable metrics it was using for the HAMP anti-foreclosure program. If you’re looking for a measure of the housing market’s future, look past the homebuyer tax credit and focus on jobs, says WSJ.

PACE-Gate, cont Looks like the Fannie and Freddie goliaths might actually take a fall against the PACE green-retrofitting program if the Senate passes an energy bill this year, according to John Hiskes.

Avant-Garde? Fannie Mae’s CEO says the company’s tougher lending standards are a “New Realism” in the industry and here to stay.

Homelessness Goes Hollywood The younger Madame Pelosi will be bringing stories of the homeless to HBO, starting Monday night.

Books or Bed? That’s the choice facing many cash-strapped undergrads on the brink of homelessness, says Julianne Hing.

Image: The 1948 movie version of life on the streets, from Vittorio De Sica’s neo-realist classic, The Bicycle Thief, via

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Around The Block, Magic Touch Edition

At a Glance Home prices increased for the second straight month in May, according to the AP. NHC and NAR may well have a magic touch, with Minneapolis and Atlanta leading the nation in resurging prices. The Dept. of Housing and Urban Development’s monthly “scorecard” says housing is more affordable than it’s been for 10 years.

Renaissance of Rental Bloomberg reports on the “stunning” surge in rental demand in cities recently. The Center for Housing Policy’s reality check: Just because it’s not a house, doesn’t mean it’s affordable.

SPRAWLANTA, cont. Check out the PBS video below for more on how highways have become a public health epidemic in Atlanta, GA (h/t, T4). And Jonathan Hiskes tips us off to news that even suburbanites are growing tired of the highways.

Watch the full episode. See more Need To Know.

Wall Street Reform Success, cont. WSJ has more on the help the financial reform bill provides unemployed homeowners facing foreclosure.

“Securitization” a Dirty Word? For decades, bankers’ ability to bundle mortgages together into guaranteed “securities” led to tremendous market growth and more access to loans for families to own homes. But after the crisis, Edward L. Glaeser wonders whether the whole practice should be reconsidered.

Image: Scott Pollack for Barrons, 

Making Energy Efficiency Affordable for All Americans

To get serious about the energy and climate crisis in America, we need to start with where we live. Over 20 percent of US carbon emissions in 2008 came from our homes, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. To bring that number down, we need real world solutions that are practical for all Americans to implement – not just families with the most resources.

The Center for Housing Policy just launched a new online toolkit that highlights residential energy efficiency solutions available for families and policymakers. The toolkit offers strategies to improve the efficiency of existing single-family and multifamily homes, with a special focus on low- and moderate-income households. Developed with support from Wells Fargo, the online resource is an expansion of, the Center’s online guide to state and local housing policy, and lays out a comprehensive energy-efficiency program, including policies to spur investment in residential energy efficiency, low-cost financing tools to help families afford the costs of green upgrades, and more.

There’s also a new space for members of the interactive Forum to share questions, case studies, and best practices related to residential energy efficiency. The new Forum category includes several areas where members are encouraged to share reports, case studies, and other resources prepared by other organizations. (Not yet a member of the Forum? Click here to learn more.)

To help introduce this new section, the Center for Housing Policy will host a Webinar today, July 27 from 1:00 p.m. - 2:00 p.m. EDT (10:00 a.m. - 11:00 a.m. PDT). The Webinar will provide an overview of the new toolkit, including a "tour" of key content areas, and will also feature speakers from CNT Energy, a division of Chicago's Center for Neighborhood Technology, discussing their Energy Savers program.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Around The Block, Homeless in Hawaii Edition

At a Glance The AP says June was the second weakest month on record for new home sales. 

With a View Like That Who Needs a Roof? Hawaii has become a haven for the homeless. According to this AP piece, the Aloha State’s homeless population has grown by 15% in the past year due to its weather, scenery and generous support services. Although the newly displaced have yet disrupt to tourism, Hawaii could shoulder a heavy financial burden in supporting the homeless population. Possible solutions include creating “tent cities” on less visible land, the seemingly heartless one-way ticket home option, or offering more affordable housing. We tend to lean towards the latter. Join us in Honolulu, HI in October for the final Bring Workers Home forum to discuss sustainable housing options.

“Baby on Board” Discrimination Following a NYT article highlighting mortgage lenders’ practice of discriminating against new or expectant parents, the Dept. of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) is launching an investigation. HUD issued a statement on Wednesday saying these discriminatory practices could violate fair housing laws.

Going Global Again Kenya's National Housing Corporation and an Iranian Company, Mahan Industries Limited, have entered into a partnership that will create 2,000 to 3,000 affordable housing units in Nairobi and 90 other towns across the country in the next 5 years. The partnership not only signals a new era in affordable housing for the country but also the peaceful future between Kenya and Iran.

Image: Homeless tents in Hawaii, via

SPAWLANTA: Where to Start to Understand Smart Growth

Earlier this month we discussed the interesting case of Atlanta when it comes to sprawl and smart growth. The city’s metro area seems to show a paradox in housing demand: it has experienced a surge of interest in its compact urban areas recently, while also expanding to showcase perhaps the most sprawling suburban landscape in the nation; the average Atlantan travels 66 miles a day to get to and from work.

Last month, NHC and NAR hosted a forum in Atlanta that discussed these problems, as unchecked sprawl continues to increase the “cost of place” (the combined cost of housing, utilities, and transportation) for working families in Atlanta and other major cities.

American Makeover has picked up on these issues, creating a series of six short documentaries in various US cities where sprawl has threatened the livability, sustainability and quality of life for American families. In Atlanta, the filmmakers chose a compelling example to kick off the “new urbanism” series.

The video provides a nice overview of the effects of sprawl – including ramifications for public health, the environment, community engagement, and overall wellbeing – and why Americans should start telling their local and national representatives to get behind smart growth ideas.

Image: What breakfast time looks like in Atlanta, via

Friday, July 23, 2010

Around The Block, GSE's or BFG's?... Edition

Livability Logic Smart growth advocates are very effective at promoting environmental sustainability as a way to build economic growth. But we shouldn’t forget the other side of the coin, that encouraging economic empowerment can lead to more sustainable lifestyles. As Kaid Benfield puts it, “If currently disadvantaged communities can become stronger, they can retain and restore population and attract investment that might otherwise go to sprawl.”

PACE-Gate, cont. In the Senate, Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), and Mark Begich (D-Alaska) are siding against Fannie and Freddie on their recent crackdown on the PACE green housing retrofitting programs. These lawmakers are no bunch of David’s, but that’s not to say their odds are looking good up against the mortgage giants.

Speaking of Goliath(s) Newsweek wonders if President Obama is getting ready to “slay the Fannie and Freddie beast,” after leaving the Government Sanctioned Entities (GSE’s) out of the Wall Street reform bill. And there’s another, even bigger fiscal giant that has its hands deep into the struggling housing market, according to the NYT: the Federal Reserve.

Prevent it First, cont. Veterans are a major focus of the administration’s plan to end homelessness. Yesterday the Departments of Housing and Veterans Affairs announced more action to halt the “downward spiral” among returning vets that too often ends in homelessness. Through the new Veterans Homelessness Prevention Demonstration Program, the two agencies will provide $15 million to select communities near military installations to provide housing assistance and supportive services to veterans.

Seniors Booming Quicker than Teens, cont. America’s seniors are power players of housing demand these days. New York is trying to make city life easier for the older generation, now TNR reports on the struggle the suburbs will have to take on.

Image: Cover of the Roald Dahl classic, the BFG (Big Friendly Giant), or, Mortgage Finance for Kids.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Around The Block, Catch Up Edition

We were getting our hands dirty with the recent remodeling yesterday, so we’re playing catch-up with today’s ATB. All of the (two) day’s housing news under one roof:

At a Glance WSJ tells us existing homes sales sank 5.1 percent in June. And the “number of homeowners leaving the [Obama administration’s anti-foreclosure] program exceeded those who received new loan modifications for the second straight month.”

Foreclosures Hurt The AP finds an MIT study showing the impact of foreclosures on neighborhood property values: specifically, reducing home values by 27%. I guess that’s what “neighborhood stabilization” means.

Cities Chasing Their Tails, cont. Following up on the absurdity of city parking regulations, Matt Yglesias picks up on a Las Vegas parking law requiring that each “apartment building must contain at least 1.25 parking spaces for every one bedroom unit.” Have fun with that math.

The Case for Smart Growth, cont. A few weeks ago, we talked about how the “Ring of Death,” or the high foreclosure rate in metro areas’ furthest reaching suburban neighborhoods, is proof that sprawl isn’t sustainable. Yesterday, the Chicago Tribune showed that it’s not just single family houses, but also multi-family condos in the exurbs that are taking a hit recently.

Waiting for the Bubble to Pop, cont. Why is housing so ridiculously unaffordable in parts of China (to the order of 22X average income)? Might have to do with land values increasing nearly 800% since 2003. (800%!)

Who Wants to Be a Hotelier, cont. Millions of folks around the world are turning to Craigslist to bring in renters, sub-letters, or just nightly visitors. If you’re one of them, WSJ offers some tips on how to not look creepy. (Whoever took the picture above could have used some help.)

New, Online Face of NHC and the Center Combines Next Generation Look With Cutting-Edge Tools and Resources

You may have noticed that the NHC “Open House” Blog has a new look as of this morning. That’s not the only thing that’s changing here at NHC and the Center. Check out our website,, for a completely revamped design and easy access to the cutting-edge tools and resources you’ve come to expect from us.

We’ve created a whole new approach to the way we share information about affordable housing online, and made it easier than ever for experts and ordinary folks alike to engage in the issues of the day.

So what’s new on the site other than its next generation look?
Now, more than ever, the NHC and Center website is a one stop shop for housing professionals, decision-makers, the public and the media!

Want to share the new site with your network? Our social media release makes it super easy to share NHC's news via Twitter, Facebook, email, and more!

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

NHC and Partners Achieve Success With Wall Street Reform Signing

The President signed the Restoring American Financial Stability Act of 2010 today, marking the largest financial reform legislation signed into law since the Great Depression.

NHC applauds the important and far-reaching impact this legislation will have on affordable housing and neighborhood stabilization. In particular, we are thrilled about the $1 billion in funding allocated for a 3rd round of Neighborhood Stabilization Program (NSP 3). NSP helps revitalize neighborhoods affected by the foreclosure crisis by rehabilitating, redeveloping, and reusing abandoned and foreclosed properties.

This historic achievement was due, in no small part, to a collaborative effort of the National Foreclosure Prevention and Neighborhood Stabilization Task Force, led by NHC and Enterprise Community Partners. The Task Force includes dedicated advocates, practitioners and other experts from across the country, and has been the leader in conceiving, implementing and expanding the NSP program from the beginning.

“There is no better example of NHC’s affordable housing advocacy on behalf of low- and moderate-income families and individuals than our work in partnership with the Foreclosure Task Force,” said NHC President and CEO Maureen Friar.

NSP 3 is not the only impact financial reform will have on the housing community. For additional details, please view our breakdown of the housing reforms from a few weeks ago.

Image from

Getting Ready for Our Close-Up

As NHC nears our 80th anniversary, we’ve decided to do a little remodeling.

The new, online face of the NHC and the Center for Housing Policy will launch tomorrow, July 22nd -- as well as a brand new look for the "Open House" blog!  Stay tuned...

We know that you are all in a frenzy of anticipation, so below is a little visual teaser of the site's new look and feel.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Shelter from the Storm (and Disaster Mitigation, too!)

With hurricane season brewing, and the gulf region already under obvious stress recently, the Center for Housing Policy is turning its sights to protecting homeowners vulnerable to natural disasters.

On July 15, the Center's Research Associate Ryan Sherriff was a guest on the Heartland Institute’s FIRE (Finance, Insurance and Real Estate) podcast. Ryan discussed the Center’s disaster-resistant homes toolkit, launched this May as part of NHC’s and the Center’s Housing Solutions Week. The toolkit highlights the technologies, community strategies and financing tools to help households and communities protect homes from natural disasters, like hurricanes, tornadoes and floods. In particular, it focuses on how state and local governments can support lower income families, who often face greater barriers to making their homes resistant to natural disasters.

Ryan also discussed some related topics that came up during a panel discussion he moderated at the Texas Risk Mitigation Leadership Forum in Austin last month. The Forum was sponsored by RenaissanceRe and WeatherPredict Consulting, the two organizations who funded the development of the disaster-resistant homes toolkit. The panel discussed, among other items, Texas-specific disaster mitigation issues related to affordable housing and building codes, and the state’s coordination with the Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Federal Emergency Management Agency on both pre-disaster mitigation and disaster recovery efforts.

Image from 

Around The Block, New York News Edition

At a Glance AP takes a look at the decline in new construction, which is at its lowest level since November. And the WSJ offers an opposing, more upbeat view on the end of the homebuyer tax credit, which led to a dive in home sales and lots of folks predicting a double dip recession.

New York, New York, cont. Mayor Bloomberg has some ambitious plans for expanding affordable housing, but the NYT profiles a potential kink in the plan: what happens when people fall off the program? Also from the New York world, check out Andrea Star Reese’ powerful pics of some of the city’s homeless population (the source of the image above).

One Step Closer, cont. President Obama will be signing Wall Street reform into law in the next few days. In anticipation, the National Low Income Housing Coalition spotlights the bill’s extension of the Protecting Tenants at Foreclosure Act, the law that “provides renters whose landlords have lost their properties to foreclosure the right to stay in the home for 90 days after the foreclosure or through the term of their lease.”

The Seniors are Booming Quicker Than the Teens Last week we talked about the need to provide suitable living options for seniors, a group projected to grow 120% by 2050. Now, the NYT looks at the efforts of New York’s city planners to make the city more livable for the older population.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Around the Block, Global Edition

Who Wants to be a Hotelier? With the threat of foreclosure looming for homeowners all over the world, more and more folks are finding a reprieve by becoming self-made hoteliers, according to this Bloomberg article. Websites Airbnb, Craigslist and Home Away have helped save homeowners from losing their house by acting as an online marketplace for those who want to rent a house, room or couch for as little as one night.

New York, New York New York City has financed 14,676 affordable housing units during the 2010 fiscal year, more than any other city or state on record. The number of units financed is in line with Bloomberg Administration’s $8.4 billion New Housing Marketplace Plan. The goal is to create or preserve 165,000 affordable housing units by 2013. To date, the city has financed nearly 108,600 units.

Waiting for the Bubble to Pop? Beijing is in dire need of affordable housing after the Beijing University of Technology and the Social Science Academic Press released a report revealing that the average flat costs 22 times average income levels. Although the government has built low cost, government-subsidized housing, the supply has not come close to satisfying the demand for such housing options.

100,000 Homes, 100,000 Hopes

There has been a lot of due focus on ending homelessness recently. Last month, the Administration unveiled the nation’s first comprehensive strategy to prevent and end homelessness within the next ten years. The National Alliance to End Homelessness also concluded their National Conference on Ending Homelessness in Washington, DC last week. Keynote speakers at the conference included Department of Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan and Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki, who both stressed their firm commitment to ending homelessness. In addition, the conference served as the launching pad for Common Ground’s 100,000 Homes campaign.

The goal of the 100,000 Homes campaign is to find homes for 100,000 of the most vulnerable and chronically homeless by July 2013. The campaign’s model consists of a 5-step process centered on delving into and identifying the homeless in each community and then assessing how to best help and house them. 100,000 Homes provides tools and materials to assist communities in housing the homeless, including a 12-week intensive curriculum for local team leaders on how to successfully implement a campaign and a Vulnerability Index Survey to help clarify the demand for housing.

The campaign relies not only on activists and advocates focused on ending homelessness, but also enlists community members to become part of the effort. 100,000 Homes hopes to end homelessness by providing communities with both the tools and resources necessary to combat it.

100,000 Homes was launched in conjunction with their website, which tracks progress, celebrates local and national achievements, and is a forum for the sharing of ideas and information.

Common Ground, in partnership with other organizations, has proven it is a heavyweight in the fight to eradicate homelessness by, according to the New York Times, housing every homeless person in Times Square, minus one holdout. Their 100,000 Homes campaign has already seen early success with the housing more than 5,000 homeless.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Around the Block: Weekly Round-Up

And the word of the week is….Livability From the nation’s capital to NYC to Minnesota everyone was talking about how to best achieve the all encompassing term ‘livability.’ This included an interagency live chat at the White House on the coordination of housing, transportation, and environmental policies; NHC’s own forum in Minnesota discussing the cost of place; and a study showing compact development fairing better than the mega-Wal-Mart’s. It seems we have started to evolved to embrace a world that is convenient, sustainable, safe and affordable.

PACE-gate con’t- again We simply cannot do a round-up of the week without mentioning PACE-gate. The green retrofitting program grabbed headlines again with CA’s Attorney General thinking about taking “major action” against Fannie, Freddie, and Fed agency that regulates them, who now block financing for the program.

“Common Sense Stuff": Administration Talks Sustainability

Leaders from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and the Departments of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and Transportation, sat down at the White House yesterday for a live chat on their interagency partnership for sustainable communities. The participants offered a coordinated, big picture look at some of the nation’s most timely challenges.

The interagency partnership signals the new, exciting approach the government is taking to housing, transportation and livability issues. Each of the agencies at the chat expressed a desire to broaden the way Americans think about these issues. The term picking up speed lately is “livability” – and it puts the ideas of convenience, sustainability, safety, and affordability under one tent. 

As they work to broaden the perspective on housing and transportation, the agencies also spoke of their efforts to make it easier for cities and states to implement solutions. HUD, for example, has implemented a simple but inventive “points system” that rewards leaders in sustainable planning, while encouraging others to step up their game.

Overall, the event was a refreshing bit of what the moderator called “Common sense stuff,” the government matching big problems with big ideas.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Around The Block, PETRA-fied Apartments Edition

At a Glance HuffPo reports on the dim outlook for foreclosures this year.

One Step Closer, cont. Democrats in the Senate overcame the Republic filibuster threat this morning, making financial reform’s passage all but certain.

PETRA-fied Apartments Can public housing take private funds? Washington Post takes on one of the housing world’s biggest questions, whether Congress should follow Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan’s lead and pass the Preservation, Enhancement and Transformation of Rental Assistance Act (PETRA). Suffice it to say, some public housing advocates are scared.

Non-Sub-Prime WSJ sounds the alarm on lenders’ courting risky borrowers. If you were born before 2008, this might sound familiar: “the hunger for new business as the crisis ebbs is causing some financial institutions to weaken lending standards and woo borrowers who mightn't be able to pay.”

Talk about Smart Growth The White House is holding a live chat on Federal coordination of housing, transportation, and environmental policies this afternoon. Join the fun at 2 p.m. at We’ll be live-tweeting the chat at our twitter account, @NHCandCenter.

Image: The Ginkgo Petrified Forest in Washington State (via

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Around The Block, Biblical Throw-Back Edition

No Regrets Less people may be buying houses these days, but the ones who do are feeling pretty good about themselves, according the Wall Street Journal.

Education, Education, Education That’s the deal breaker for families in this NYT piece, who are stretching their finances to live where their kids can get the best schooling. The take-away: livability is about more than just the environment. It’s about quality of life (and affordability, to beat the Center for Housing Policy's drum).

Smart Growth, More Money Say goodbye to the mega-Wal-Marts that won’t settle for less than a city block. Kaid Benfield passes on some analysis of property tax revenues from Sarasota, Florida, that show compact development can outperform the Mall of America’s of the world.

PACE-Gate, cont. California Attorney General is thinking about “major action” against Fannie, Freddie and the Fed agency blocking financing of the PACE green retrofitting programs. Though lacking California’s weight, the city of Babylon, NY, is acting as the David to Fannie and Freddie’s Goliath, threatening to sue the mortgage giants over the green-housing hoopla.

Image: Genesis re-hashed by

This Just In… “Cost of Place” Still Too Expensive for Working Families

On Monday, NHC and the National Association of Realtors (NAR) made a stop in Minneapolis, MN, half way through their cross-country trek talking about workforce housing and livability issues for working families.

As the keynote speaker, Jeffrey Lubell, executive director of the Center for Housing Policy, described how emerging changes in demographics and demand, as well as long-term instability in energy costs, are driving new ideas in housing and development. “There is a growing desire around the country for more livable communities that are walkable, close to transit or job centers.” Lubell put these changes in context of the growing “cost of place,” or the combined costs of housing, transportation and utilities.

Minnesota is an interesting case when it comes to “cost of place." The state has touted one of the highest homeownership rates in the country for decades, tempting some to think that affordability isn’t a top-tier issue there. But Minnesota also features some of the most dramatic sprawl in the country, and a workforce growing increasingly tired of the unpleasant, unproductive time they spend commuting.

By bringing together some of the brightest practitioners and thinkers in the Midwest from a slate of different sectors, the Bring Workers Home forum laid out the needs of working families in Minnesota, and started to find some solutions.

Image: Rochester, MN's Mayo Clinic, a local leader in employer-assisted housing (via

Reality Check on Urban Renewal

Richard Florida picks up on the Bloomberg piece we discussed yesterday, and argues the burst of the condo bubble in Miami has actually contributed to urban revitalization, instead of halting it (a case very similar to the one we made last week). His point is that the transition from ownership to rental housing can spur a condensed, young, and lively urban environment. From the Bloomberg piece:
"For us, it doesn't matter whether they rent or buy," said Miami Mayor Tomás P. Regalado. "The more people, the more business, the more safety, the more progress"
With the homeownership rate in decline across the country, the renaissance of rental housing is likely just beginning.

On the whole, people coming back into the cities, to live near transit and job centers, is a good thing for the environment and economic recovery. But amidst the changes, NHC and the Center for Housing Policy still have the same, singular goal. Whether the “back to the city” dwellers end up in rental or owned homes, the central need for working families will not change: affordability.

If the combined “cost of place,” including housing, transportation, and utilities, continues to swell beyond people’s means – as it is now for renters and owners alike – then workers’ suffering will only continue.

Photo: A mix of affordability and not so much in NYC's meatpacking district (via

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Around the Block, Minnesota Love Edition

Let’s Just be Friends, cont. Bloomberg finds the upside to the recent condo crash in Miami: cheap luxury for youngsters. Plus, Christopher Leinberger relays a debate he had with Joel Kotkin, smart growth dissident, on how walking isn’t just for cities.

Walking the Walk In response to the cheerful chatter over NYC’s bus rapid transit plan, Matt Yglesias argues that buses should complement, not replace, rail building, especially when the goal is to spur transit oriented development.

One Step Closer to Reality, cont. Looks like Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has pulled together the 60 votes needed to pass Wall Street reform. Here’s a refresher on what the bill could mean for the housing market.

Hometown Plug Families in Minnesota face some serious issues when it comes to “cost of place” (we’ll have more on that for you tomorrow). But the state is home to the number one small city in the nation, according to Money Magazine.

Photo: Youngsters celebrating summer in Eden Prairie, MN (from

Do Women Control the Future of the Housing Market?

Yesterday, Nation’s Building News emphasized the impact of Generation Y – and young women in particular – on creating future consumer demand for multifamily housing and apartments. The author offers several reasons why multifamily housing developers should focus on young women, including growth in the 22-30 age bracket; sluggish rises in income among younger households, which makes them more likely to rent; rising education and income levels of women compared to young men; and the fact that women often look for different home and community features than men.

While all of this may be true, the article ignores some hard demographic truths. According to the Census Bureau, the number of individuals over the age of 65 in 2010 (40.2 million) is roughly the same as the number in their twenties (43.2 million). But the population over 65 is projected to grow by 120% by 2050, compared to 30% for those in their twenties. Although many older adults today own their homes and thus may get less attention when it comes to multifamily and apartments, their sheer increase in number suggests that millions more will be renting, out of preference or necessity, in the near future.

The housing sector should respond to the needs of the entire population, and this includes the growing number of low- and moderate-income older adults who need affordable, accessible housing. As we all know, the needs and preferences of older adults can be drastically different from those of a recent college grad or a young couple starting a family. If the housing sector continues to focus solely on younger households entering the housing market, when will it build for our demographic future?

Monday, July 12, 2010

Around The Block, Cosmic Smart Growth Ed.

Living in Green Bank of America, an NHC Housing Leadership Support Sponsor, has announced an "Affordable Green Neighborhoods Grant Program," in partnership with the U.S. Green Building Council.

Late Friday Cheers, cont. LoanSafe reports on the Federal Housing Administration giving Neighborhood Stabilization Program purchasers a “First Look” at its foreclosed properties in hard-hit neighborhoods. Megan Cottrell says more foreclosures might be the answer to the housing market’s recent woes.

Walking the Walk The parade of transportation and livability news continues: picks up on the Center for Housing Policy and Urban Land Institute report on the hidden cost of transportation for working families. The U.S. Department of Transportation announced $293 million for transit and livability. The City Fix talks some more about the “brilliant” NYC bus comeback. The upcoming governor’s election may twist the fate of high speed rail in CA. And Kaid Benfield highlights the “real transportation choices” offered by the sign above from Albuquerque, NM.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Around The Block, PACE-Gate Edition

Yes, the “Battle of the Greens” has officially reached a level worthy of the suffix.

The Story With More Sequels than Twilight As we reported earlier in the week, the PACE retrofitting financing program is the hot topic of the mortgage/banking/green energy industries. Now the plot thickens. Only days after the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) put PACE financial assistance on the back-burner to make mortgage payments the top priority, we learn that the DOE offered to ensure against PACE losses. However, FHPA rejected the offer for reasons that are still unclear. Now, political heavyweights Schwarzenegger and Bloomberg are pressing the Agency and Administration to resolve the impasse over the program. Stay tuned next week as the drama unfolds.

What Are Fannie and Freddie To Do? The FHFA released a statement on Tuesday providing recommendations for the GSEs (Fannie, Freddie and the Federal Home Loan Banks) regarding PACE. If you’re feeling wonky, read the full statement for a list of FHFA’s recommendations. The Agency’s message in a nutshell: Be smart, watch the money, and deal with it.

Cohen Reacts Steve Cohen’s Huffington Post article outlines the level of absurdity the PACE lien has reached thanks to FHFA actions. Cohen works himself into quite a rage. It is well-worth the read. 

Construction #FAIL For a commercial break, here are some creative construction designs  to ensure you start your weekend with a smile, courtesy of Huffington Post.

"Ring of Death" Burning Brighter Than We Thought

Drawing on numbers in NYT today from NHC Member Partner, CoreLogic, Felix Salmon laments on the wave of “strategic” mortgage defaults among more well-off homeowners, and Fannie and Freddie’s attempts to put a stop these moves among folks with smaller assets: “Sure, it’s not good social policy to strategically default. Fine. That doesn’t stop the rich, and it shouldn’t stop the rest of us either.” Krugman says CoreLogic’s findings show it was mortgage loans to “affluent deadbeats,” as much as the government pushing homeownership for lower income families, that led to the crash.

We’ve talked a lot in the last few weeks about how the foreclosure crisis has disproportionally hit the traditionally “wealthy” suburban outreaches in many of America’s largest metro areas – a phenomenon William H. Lucy calls the “Ring of Death.” On top of higher foreclosure rates, CoreLogic’s findings add to this mix the higher rate of intentional defaults on expensive homes (mostly in the suburbs). So the Ring of Death is burning brighter than we might have thought. Whether it’s forced foreclosure or intentionally withholding mortgage payments, for thousands of families, it appears the old, exurban American Dream is beginning to bubble over.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Around The Block, "On Two Wheels" Edition

Battle of the Greens, cont. The Federal Housing Finance Agency continues to back up Fannie and Freddie (who it regulates) in their tussle with the PACE green housing program. The Agency says PACE’s energy-efficiency financing “presents an unsafe and unsound situation for [Fannie and Freddie, who need] to take action to protect themselves.”

Off the Grid Fannie and Freddie have officially delisted from the New York Stock Exchange, and switched to the Over-the Counter market (OTC). Also, Bloomberg scans the debate on mortgage finance reform, including a quote from Barry Zigas, a member of NHC’s Board of Governors: “Everybody’s telling them, ‘Don’t do anything stupid. It’s easy to forget that this system worked awfully well for 75 years.”

Walking the Walk It appears walkability has moved to the top of the list for homebuyers, right next to the closet and kitchen. In fact, realtors are starting to promote sustainability and accessibility by showing houses to clients on bikes.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

America to Suburbia: Let's Just be Friends

In the Wall Street Journal, Joel Kotkin argues that America’s love affair with suburbia hasn’t ended, and that the talk about urban revival – a hot topic on this blog – is “wishful thinking.”

In part, Mr. Kotkin bases his argument on falling condominium prices. But his examples are markets like Miami and Las Vegas that were characterized by years of overbuilding and investor-led price increases during the housing bubble. He also uses the fall-off in condo construction as proof that urban revival is overblown. But with residential construction at a near standstill, it seems strange to think that recent activity reveals consumer desires.

Kotkin cites the fact that people are still moving out to the suburbs, including immigrants. He’s right. Just keep in mind it’s often the lower-income households who are fleeing to affordability that they can’t find close to work. That’s not evidence that urban revival isn’t real. It’s a reminder that sprawl, in the long term, isn’t sustainable.

Mr. Kotkin’s primary evidence that the move back to the city is exaggerated is that consumer surveys consistently show a preference for suburban living. But the real issue is that our society has come to associate high-quality, affordable homes with the suburbs. What would happen if we started building good, affordable homes near public transit, great schools, and employment centers, rather than in isolated, unsustainable, sprawling neighborhoods?  It seems like we should find out.

Around The Block, Wednesday Edition

At a Glance HuffPo says the average homeowner using the Obama administration’s mortgage modification program is drowning, owing “more than $1.50 for every dollar their home is worth.”

Talk about Smart Growth Kaid Benfield makes the case that “if all new land development in the US were to adopt existing, proven smart growth features, consumers could collectively save as much as $2 trillion in transportation expenses over ten years.” And New York Magazine speculates on whether New York’s “Subway on the Street” idea could revolutionize public transportation.

Battle of the Greens, cont. Jonathan Hiskes argues it’s time for Congress to step in and put a stop to “Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac's attack on Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE).”

Late Friday Cheers, cont. Enterprise Community Partners was awarded $6 million in Neighborhood Stabilization Program (NSP) funds to help foreclosure-stricken communities get back on their feet.

(Illustration by Bob Scott in

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Around The Block, Weekly Kick-Start Edition

At a Glance Wall Street Journal says signs of improvement are fleeting for mortgage delinquencies. And the Federal government has started to defer payments from unemployed homeowners who are having a tough time paying their mortgages.

Battle of the Greens, cont. Federal Housing Finance Agency issued a statement on Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac’s caution towards home loans that use energy efficiency financing programs like Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE).

Oil Spill Spreads to Housing, cont. In the Indy Star today, U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) explains why the country needs to seize the moment in response to the oil spill and embrace clean energy policies.

Photo: HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan (via

Oil Spill Spreads to Housing Markets – What’s Next?

Tapping into America’s resilient spirit, President Obama has promised not only to recover from the damage caused by the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, but to repair the Gulf to an even better state than before. That’s an ambitious task to take on. But in the aftermath of disaster, it appears that the nation may have chance to show some real growth in one area in particular: housing and sustainable land use.   
The effects of the spill have not spread evenly across the gulf:

On one hand, Florida’s housing market has been dealt a one-two punch. The state was already one of the hardest hit by foreclosures in recent years, with over 80% of home loans “under water” (where owners owe more than their property’s value). On top of diving home values, Florida also has one of the highest unemployment rates in the nation. It’s not likely that the oil spill’s blow to the economy, specifically on the fishing and tourism industries, will help any of these problems.

On the other hand, New Orleans is experiencing modest growth after the disaster, according to Multi-Housing News. New Orleans’ properties are now 88% occupied and several construction projects are in the works, as the housing market and rents appear to stabilize. With BP hiring more than 20,000 people to help clean up, Louisiana is actually experiencing a “mini-job boom,” increasing demand for rental and owned homes.

So, how can we come out of this crisis a better, healthier and more efficient country?

Friday, July 2, 2010

Around the Block, Lightning Fast Holiday Edition

NHC's offices have officially closed for the vacation, so the round up will be a quick one today. Happy holiday weekend to all!

At a Glance Wall Street Journal explains how the housing market is still knee-deep in danger, despite record low mortgage rates.

Habitat for ...a Market Share With it's "competitors" holding back, one of the nation's most well known non-profit organizations, Habitat for Humanity (an NHC Member Partner), has become one of the top homebuilders in the nation.

Skeletons in the Closet? Scott Redler accusses Chris Dodd, Barney Frank, and President Obama of political corruption in leaving Fannie and Freddie out of the financial reform bill.

Since the Crisis, the Case for Smart Growth Has Only Grown Stronger

Transportation for America has a good post up today on the connection between housing and transportation and providing Americans better choices and more convenience when it comes to where they live. Read the full post if you’re wondering why we’ve been talking about urban revival a lot recently, and if you’re interested in some of T4’s sustainable growth solutions.

As an example of the rise in demand for urban areas, the post mentions Atlanta, a city that “before the real estate-triggered financial meltdown halted all development … [had] added nearly 120,000 new residents since 2000, a population increase of 28 percent, after decades of serious population loss.” It’s true, Atlanta is an interesting case that shows many people preferring convenient, compact, walkable communities. But what’s happened since the financial disaster is just as interesting.

While Atlanta did experience one of the fastest central-city growth streaks in the last two decades or so, it also led the nation in suburban population sprawl between 2000 and 2008. But after the foreclosure crisis hit, Atlanta lit up with what William H. Lucy has called a “Ring of Death” around its metro map. In other words, the most sprawling suburbs, furthest from the city, are now the ones seeing the highest rates of foreclosure. While many people had been fleeing out to the furthest suburbs for some time, in the last few years those areas have proven to be the most unsustainable, even by the market’s standards.

Atlanta is not the only metro area facing this phenomenon. In his book, Foreclosing the Dream, Lucy makes the case that the “Ring of Death” is one of the defining realities of the foreclosure crisis nationwide. In a sense, the market has spoken: the “drive-til-you-qualify” dynamic of home choices just isn’t viable anymore.

So when we talk about smart growth, let’s keep in mind that the financial realities of the last few years only emphasize the point.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Around the Block, Northward Neighbors Edition

At a Glance It appeared near dead a few days ago, but the extension of the homebuyer tax credit received a unanimous thumbs up from the Senate yesterday. Prospective homeowners have until September 30th to close the deal to take advantage of the extension.

Battle of the Greens The Obama Administration has been offering Federal funds to states to offer eco-friendly housing financing programs like Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE), a program many states use to offer bonds for retrofitting homes. NYT reports that mortgage giants Fannie and Freddie are seeing red over programs like PACE, fearing that homeowners might default on their mortgages after using these types of creative financing. Could this lead to taxpayers forking over more green instead of becoming greener?  

A Mecca for More Than Maple Syrup and Hockey For years Canada’s housing industry has been criticized by countries for not taking enough risks. Now, it looks like Canada’s reserved nature has paid off in a big way. Due to their risk-free philosophy in banking, among other areas, Canada’s housing market is one of the only in the world that's still healthy. Not bad, eh?