Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Partners in Innovation: Transit Takes the Front Seat

Hardly a day goes by without a story about the housing downturn appearing on the front page of the newspaper. Dramatic changes in the housing market over the last two years have reinforced the importance of affordable homes – homeownership and rental units – for families of all incomes. But it isn’t enough to consider whether a home is affordable or not; it is critical to consider where homes are located too. According to A Heavy Load: The Combined Housing and Transportation Burdens of Working Families, a study of 28 metropolitan areas by the Center for Housing Policy, housing, transportation and utility costs together account for some 57 percent of the income of families earning between $20,000 and $50,000 in 2000, with transportation accounting for slightly more than half of these costs. Households that spend less on housing often offset those savings by spending more on transportation, and vice-versa, such that the overall percentage of income spent on the combined costs of place remains relatively constant. As the rapid increase in gas prices in 2008 showed, families located far from jobs, schools, and other amenities experienced dramatic increases in household transportation costs, highlighting their vulnerability to fluctuating energy costs and the potential for their combined cost burden to be much greater.

Many local, regional and state entities have initiated efforts to coordinate policies across housing and transportation agencies to support transit-oriented development (TOD) in an effort to improve housing affordability and also reduce traffic congestion and overall greenhouse gas emissions. Yet, ensuring that TOD provides housing opportunities for households with a range of incomes is very complex. After all, in many places with a mix of land-uses that are well-served by transit, land values tend to be very expensive, making it difficult to preserve and expand affordable housing where it is needed most.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Around the Block: Down the (Rented) Rabbit Hole Edition

Last week saw a plethora of reports come out on the state of the housing market, here are some of the high and low lights:

1st Time Fears July’s percentage of first-time homebuyers was at its lowest level in at least a year.

Existing Homes Falter Existing home sales took a nose dive in July, due in most part to the expiration of the tax credit.

The Good News, Kind Of The percentage of homes in the foreclosure process dropped for the first time since 2006. Whether this can be attributed to less homeowners filing for foreclosure or less homeowners being able to file for foreclosure is still unclear. But, short-term foreclosures are on the rise which may be an ominous signal for a rise in foreclosures in the future.

Fixed-rate mortgages hit record lows. 30-year fixed-rate mortgage fell to an average of 4.36%, while 15-year fixed-rate mortgage averaged 3.85%.

Bernanke's Stock Following Federal Reserve Chairman Bernanke’s speech on Friday, the Times reported a drop in stock prices.

Is Supersize even an Option Anymore? In a time of high unemployment, when home prices are flat or falling, renting would be the smart way to go recommends a Post article. But if you do get a great deal where the monthly payment doesn’t exceed a comparable rent price, and are planning on staying in the home for an extended period of time, then try to live within your means and think McCottage not McMansion. And if you do end up buying, then stick with the old rule of thumb: focus on a mortgage equal to up to three times your annual gross income.

Image: Alice didn't know what she would encounter when she fell down the rabbit hole and frankly neither do we via, newsmakingnews.com

New Member Spotlight: Institute for Human Services

The Institute for Human Services (IHS) started with one man’s compassion to help his fellow residents of Honolulu. Reverend Du Teil saw a need in the community and answered the need by opening a center offering peanut butter sandwiches three times a day to the citizens of Hawaii who were struggling with addiction and housing. Over 30 years later, the same compassion, caring and love Du Teil was known for is alive and well in the form of IHS.

IHS has been helping thousands of people avoid homelessness for nearly 30 years . Although IHS is better known for their emergency food and shelter programs for homeless persons in Honolulu, they have expanded their services in the past ten years to include housing placement assistance and many other services needed to help end and prevent homelessness for those who come seeking help. IHS realizes that permanent homes are inextricably tied to their success as service providers. In fact, IHS states “We envision a community where everyone has a right and responsibility to safe, decent and affordable housing.” One unique challenge Hawaii faces, and that makes their solution to homelessness more difficult than other states, is the desire of many who were raised there and want to live there but cannot afford to.

 IHS made news with their Founder's Day celebrations.

IHS’s NHC membership is focused on advocacy for better housing policy in Hawaii. NHC, in partnership with the National Association of REALTORS, will be hosting its’ fourth and final Bring Workers Home forum in Honolulu, HI on October 12.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Around the Block: Back to School Edition

In celebration of many kids completing their first week back to school, we are giving out our own report cards:

Going Green: A
A bright spot in the midst of the recession and housing crisis is that many have taken this opportunity to go green. From more walkable communities to building more energy-efficient housing and commercial developments, never before has the nation shown such a vested interest in creating sustainable communities and, in turn, a more livable world. In commemoration of the 5th anniversary of Katrina we also tip our hat to New Orleans, the city has especially embraced eco-friendly housing as they continue to rebuild.

Mortgage Crisis: C
The good foreclosure starts and inventory and seriously overdue loans were down from the first three months of the year, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association. Areas of improvement are with loans between 30 days and 60 days late whose trends had increased. If this trend is left unchecked it could reinflate the foreclosure pipeline. Overall, some improvement has been made but there is much more to work on, as Fed Chair Bernanke pointed out.

The Fed: Incomplete
It may be too soon to grade Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke’s speech this morning on what the Fed is prepared to do to support economic recovery. Of note, Bernanke remarked the central bank was on standby to act if needed and the Federal Open Market Committee was also ready to provide additional monetary support, even through “unconventional measures,” if necessary.

Image: Make It Right's 1st home built in New Orleans' 9th Ward, given to 68-year-old grandmother Gloria Guy, via usatoday.com

Employer-Assisted Housing: A Critical Private-Public Partnership

To help our county recover from the recent housing and economic crisis, additional private-public partnerships are needed. One way to develop these partnerships is to engage employers in employer-assisted housing (EAH) programs. EAH describes a variety of housing benefits that employers can offer their employees, such as homebuyer assistance, rental assistance, homebuyer education, new construction and renovation of housing. These programs improve employees’ quality of life while also boosting recruitment and retention for employers. In addition, EAH programs strengthen communities by helping employees to live closer to work, reducing lengthy commutes and pollution and by leveraging private-sector partnerships. Businesses that currently provide EAH programs include CVS, Northrop Grumman, Aurora Health Care, the City of Seattle as well as many others.

Some states and localities have already established incentives to help businesses provide EAH programs. For example, the State of Illinois provides a state tax credit called the Affordable Housing Tax Credit Program, which offers a 50-cent state income tax credit for every dollar invested in employer-assisted housing or donated to the creation of affordable homes. Through this program the public investment of $2.5 million has leveraged more than $8 million from employers – and resulting in approximately $2.4 billion in home sales since 2000. On August 3, Illinois Governor Pat Quinn signed into law legislation extending this program until 2016. The program was set to expire next year.

NHC advocates, through a NHC run working group, for ways in which EAH programs be incentivized at the federal level. One such way is through a federal EAH tax credit. This tax credit would be the organizing strategy around which public and private sectors could improve and expand EAH programs nationally while also being used as a match for states and localities trying to engage more employers and get similar programs started.

To learn more about EAH programs, NHC and the National Association of Realtors® (NAR) are convening a series of four Bring Workers Home regional policy forums in 2010 to address workforce housing issues and solutions, including EAH. These forums focus on policies that better connect affordable housing, jobs and transportation in different regions across the country. The final forum will take place in Honolulu on October 12. Three previous forums were hosted in Atlanta, Minneapolis, and Austin. For more information on the series and to register for the Honolulu forum, please visit NHC’s website.

Image: Partnerships are key to helping homes stay in good hands, via franklyrealestate.com

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Around the Block: Back to the Basics Edition

Foreclosures Hit Home With so many American’s hurting from the recession, foreclosure has become an unfortunate reality for many. Bridgeport, CT is a symbol of the housing market collapse, but with help from the Housing Development Fund, which draws upon Neighborhood Stabilization Program funds, the area is experiencing revitalization.

Save More, Spend Less? With home resale’s in the gutter(South Beach condos can now be bought for the price of a car), looming fears of a double-dip recession and uncertainty over the future of Fannie and Freddie, it comes as no surprise more Americans have chosen to tighten their belts and hold tight to their pennies. But, could this paradox of thrift world be detrimental to economic rebound?

Bernanke’s Big Day Federal Reserve Chairman Ben S. Bernanke will be speaking at a Fed symposium on Friday. He is under rising pressure to provide solutions to the economic problems that continue to mount, making this appearance “likely to be his most important since the end of the financial crisis,” according to NY Times.

Video: The city of Bridgeport, Connecticut tries to revitalize neighborhoods hard hit by defaults and foreclosures, via reuters.com
Image: Bernanke outlines JP Morgan's merger in March via, wizbangpodcast.com

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Guest Blogger Jeff Wood: Employment Location Decisions & Affordable Housing

When a company president up and moved from his current home in the city out into the suburbs, many understood that at some point the business would move also to end up closer to his home. As a location decision it was genius for the president, but perhaps not for his workforce, which was already located proximate to the current office for convenience. Just because one member is mobile, it is not likely that everyone in a medium to large company can be so inclined to move.

Over the last 60 years we saw more and more sprawl and then employment following that housing to be closer to the worker. It has been a slow methodical process of workers dispersing and the employment following, seeking an equilibrium solution. It is a somewhat endless leapfrogging that has been documented generationally in several books including Edge City by Joel Garreau and Boomburbs by Robert Lang. While edge cities are generally dense and filled with taller buildings in proximity to one another (think Century City in Los Angeles) somewhat close to the central business district of the region, boomburbs tend to be buildings along freeways, where the place is centered on the freeway.

Around the Block: Brainiac Edition

What makes a city "Smart"? As more and more folks begin to embrace the urban lifestyle, IBM looks into the idea of a "Smart City". Smokestacks, skyscrapers, public parks and public transit - this series delves into what we need to make cities smart, sustainable and livable.

Neighborly Competition According to a recent survey released by Urban Land Institute, 60% of home builders are shifting to pedestrian-oriented, mixed-use neighborhoods in order to stay competitive.

Waiting for the Bottom to Drop New home sales are at a 15-year low. Some economists predicted home sales would dip briefly after the home buyer tax credit expired and rebound soon after. But, in the after math of July’s 27.2% drop in home sales, economists are now wondering how low does the market need to go for the rebound to kick in?

Why Fix It If Isn't Broke There seems, for the moment, to be a consensus reached about what to do with the mortgage giants. The consensus revolved around a hybrid model in which private banks would decide which mortgages would get the government guarantee. But Dean Baker of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, argues that if we want a cheap and efficient way of sustaining the secondary mortgage market, then keeping Fannie and Freddie as government-owned companies would be the way to go.

Video: via, youtube.com/user/IBMSmarterPlanetUK

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

From the Desk of Maya Brennan: Livability at Working Families’ Wages

Livable communities are sustainable, walkable, transit-accessible, and full of the amenities that make it easier for people to thrive. Livability means that local residents can get to and from work easily, use resources sustainably, have a healthy lifestyle, and spend time with family and friends. The appeal of these high-density areas is understandable, even if the term “livability” sometimes is not. Yet as livability increases and people grow to prefer it to the large lots and automobile-centered lifestyle of less sustainable communities, there’s a risk that low- and moderate-income families will be priced out.

Easier commutes, local markets, good schools, and other features of livable communities should not just be available to households that can pay a premium for them. Making livability accessible to low- and moderate-income workers (a topic at a recent NHC and NAR forum in Austin and one that has been raised here before) can help families reduce costs and make it easier to make ends meet while still having time to care for themselves and their families. Higher-density housing and mixed-use development can help working families stay within their budget and minimize stress by reducing their car-dependency and increasing their access to jobs, fresh foods, parks, childcare, and other amenities.

When planning to increase livability in a region, make sure affordability for working families is on your list of concerns. How do you do that? To understand what workers typically earn in your area and how much they can afford to spend on rent or a mortgage, go to the Center for Housing Policy’s Paycheck to Paycheck database. (Disclosure: Paycheck to Paycheck is one of my projects. If you would recommend other tools or data sets, please share them in the comments.) It has wages for more than 70 jobs from accountant to welder in more than 200 metro areas and doesn’t require a stats background to use it.

Keeping working families in mind will help create communities that are both livable and inclusive. Livability means places that are attractive, revitalized, and environmentally sustainable AND allow workers to, well, live there.

For more information on Paycheck to Paycheck and related information please contact Maya Brennan, Center senior research associate.

Image: via, blogs.trb.com

Around the Block: Ebb and Flow Edition

Washington Walks Financial Tightrope While no plan has been confirmed by the administration on what to do with Fannie and Freddie, a consensus is emerging around some type of government guarantee. The debate of the future of GSEs still exists between those who don’t believe the government should offer any guarantee and others who believe limited, but explicit, government backing is necessary.

Housing Market’s 'Savior' Feels Pinch The Federal Housing Administration, dubbed the savior of the housing market by WSJ for offering some of the easiest lending terms available and credited by some housing experts for California’s stronger-than-expected annual price growth, is now starting to feel the pinch and tighten its belt. The FHA has seen its reserves fall sharply as many loans have defaulted at a rapid pace, and beginning in October the agency will raise the annual fees it charges to new borrowers.

Great Expectations Although today’s housing numbers should come as no surprise, the drop in home resales exceeds previous expectations. According to the WSJ:
Home resales dropped a record 27.2% to an annual rate of 3.83 million in July, the National Association of Realtors said Tuesday. Meanwhile, inventories rose to 12.5 months from 8.9 months in June, pressuring already depressed home prices. Inventories are at their highest level in more than a decade.

Image: via, notes-from-offcenter.com

Monday, August 23, 2010

Around the Block: Financial Futurama Edition

Former Senior VP for Fannie Mae Speaks Last Wednesday, August 18, Barry Zigas former Senior VP and NHC board member, spoke on CSPAN about the future of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

Public Transportation: A Life Saver The American Public Transportation Association (APTA) released “Evaluating Public Transportation Health Benefits,” a comprehensive survey of recent research on smart growth communities, argues that people who live near high-quality public transportation ”drive less, exercise more, live longer, and are generally healthier than residents of communities without high-quality public transportation.”

Post-Bubble Burst The housing market will eventually recover but never again reach the same cache it had before the bubble burst, according to a New York Times article. Dean Baker, co-director for the Center for Economic Policy and Research, estimates it will take 20 years to recoup the $6 trillion of housing wealth lost since 2005.

Image: via c-spanvideo.org

Friday, August 20, 2010

From the Desk of Ryan Sherriff: When Weather Hits Home

When a natural disaster strikes, it takes a toll on every household in the affected area regardless of income, race, ethnicity and other socioeconomic characteristics. But, in terms of the degree to which each household is affected, lower income families are disproportionately impacted.

Mainly, this is because lower income households tend to live in more vulnerable areas –like floodplains – where land is often cheaper, and in turn the housing is in turn more affordable. Also, the low-cost housing these families tend to live in is often lower quality, making it more vulnerable to hurricanes, tornadoes, heavy rains and floods.
Additionally, lower income families have less financial and social resources to prepare for disasters and respond to them when they strike.

For developers and builders, disaster-resistant construction and rehab adds cost, increasing rental rates and price points, and compromising affordability for lower income households. Although there are many public sector programs that can provide subsidy or low-cost financing to make homes more affordable for these households, there are few programs that can defray the added cost of disaster-resistant construction, rehab or home improvements.

There are many funding sources for financing disaster-resistant homes. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) provides the bulk of funding for disaster mitigation, mostly through its Pre-Disaster Mitigation Grant and Hazard Mitigation Grant programs. The issue is that grantees can’t use these funds to target specific income groups. So the grants can’t be used to provide the additional resources needed to help provide affordable, disaster-resistant housing for lower income households.

A few states have created programs to target such families. One example is South Carolina’s SC Safe Home Program. This program provides one-for-one grants of up to $5,000 to those owning homes with insured values of $300,000 or less. For low- and moderate- income households – those earning below 80% of the area median income – the one-for-one match is waived. Programs like SC Safe Home are great resources for providing disaster mitigation resources to lower income families…but such programs are few and far between.

My Safe Florida Home is the only other program of its kind, and funding for the program expired in June of 2009 due to budget constraints.

Even these state programs – like most FEMA programs – focus on single-family homes and don’t fund disaster-resistant construction and retrofits for multifamily properties, where lower income families are likely to rent. To address this limitation, Congressman Bennie Thompson of Mississippi proposed two bills last year that would help provide the needed resources to lower income households living in single-family and multifamily homes. The Pre-Disaster Hazard Mitigation Program Enhancement Act of 2009 (H.R. 3027) and the Hazard Mitigation for All Act of 2009 (H.R. 3026) would enable both FEMA and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to provide grants to communities strictly for helping lower income families protect their homes from natural disasters.

Congress is currently considering the two bills. Their passage would provide much needed funding for affected lower income populations and address the current limitations of federal programs in proactively helping vulnerable households prepare for the next disaster.

For more information on disaster relief housing please contact Ryan Sherriff, Center's research associate.

Image: via blogs.trb.com

Around the Block, Weekly Round Up: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly Edition

Gravy Trains- Where Are They Now? In a recent Gallup Poll survey, nearly 1/3 of American workers report being “completely satisfied” with the amount of money they earn, the highest percentage recorded as “satisfied” in two decades. 43% believe they are underpaid and only 4% would say they are overpaid. Of course, with this week’s unemployment claim hike, it is no surprise satisfaction ratings are high.

The Itch You Just Can’t Scratch The biggest, and most unfortunate, news of the week comes from Thursday’s announcement of new jobless claims hitting 500,000. So what needs to occur in order to avoid entering double-dip territory? According to Washington Post writer Frank Ahrens, “Economists say that the weekly claims number needs to get into the low 400,000s and stay there before employers will start hiring new workers and bringing back laid-off ones. Indeed, the economy needs to add 125,000 jobs each month merely to keep up with population growth.”

Foreclosures Rise, Gov’t Falters A New York Times editorial calls the government’s response to high foreclosure rates falling short of expectations. The Administration’s main program that pays lenders to modify bad loans has not seen the anticipated success. So far, only 398,198 loans have been permanently modified while it is estimated that 1.9 million people will lose their home this year. With the launching of new state-based programs, the Administration hopes to better serve, and save, unemployed or underwater homeowners.

Image: via, economix.blogs.nytimes.com

Thursday, August 19, 2010

How Urban Renewal = Opportunity

Two major themes here at Open House recently have been neighborhood stabilization and livability. Last week at NYTimes.com, Roberta Brandes Gratz tied these two themes together, with a story of urban reinvention.

The story is that of Syracuse, NY, a Rust Belt city that had seen population losses for decades, leading to vacant and foreclosed properties paving over the once bustling neighborhoods of the early 20th century. But recently, a new generation is finding ways to recreate the city with livelier homes and communities,
while helping revive the local economy:

For decades, people like Mr. Destito — young, skilled, motivated — were exactly the sort who left Rust Belt cities like Syracuse. But recently, in numbers not yet statistically measurable but clearly evident at the ground level, they’ve been coming back to the city, first as a trickle, and now by the hundreds. In some ways it’s a part of the natural ebb and flow of urban demographics. But it is also the result of a new attitude among the city’s leadership, one that admits the failure of the re-industrialization efforts of the last decades and instead invents ways to attract new types of residents and keep current ones from leaving. Call it urban renewal 2.0, gentrification on a citywide scale.

Syracuse appears to be experiencing its own brand of the “back to the city” movement we’ve discussed a lot recently. While it’s population and density are no match for the nation’s largest metropolises, the city’s “not yet statistically measurable but clearly evident” growth trends mirror those of urban areas nationwide. Over the last decade or so, it’s become clear that people are rediscovering what convenient, community-driven neighborhoods have to offer.

The lesson of Syracuse is that even as neighborhoods face unprecedented problems in this economy, the trend toward urban revival offers a chance to get cities (and families) back on their feet. Consider what’s happening to Syracuse’s vacant areas:

All over town many buildings of this vintage are being bought and renovated or restored. Each time one is visibly transformed, nearby residents, with new confidence in the future of their community, make their own improvements, creating zones of improvement amid the squalor.
In other words, when livability appears it has a way of spreading. Let’s just hope the message won’t be limited to Syracuse.

Image: the transformation process from worn-down to redone in Syracuse, via saltdistrict.com

Around the Block, Nifty Visuals Edition

"Transportation Made Transparent" Abogo is an interactive tool that shows how transportation impacts the affordability and sustainability of where you live. Not only does Abogo measure the money an average household in your region would spend on getting around, but it also calculates the CO2 use generated from the predicted car use. The tool is powered the Center for Neighborhood Technology's Housing + Transportation Affordability Index, which gives folks a more complete idea of how a neighborhood fits into a family's budget.

GSE Tree The conference held Tuesday on the future of GSEs may not have resulted in decisions; it did result in a slew of suggestions. Cambridge Winter predicted what could result when a suggestion, such as keeping GSEs hybrid public/private enterprises, became a decision.

Little Guy Woes
According to the WSJ, most of the job losses at the end of last year took place at the smallest firms, businesses with fewer than 50 employees. While small businesses created 54.1% new jobs in the fourth quarter, the sector also accounted for 61.8% of job cuts.

White-collar Moonlighters White-collar workers have been one of the hardest hit by pay cuts, furloughs and lay offs in the past year. In order to maintain their house, and quality of life, many workers have crammed a second job into their already 40-plus hour workweek. Moonlighting may have started as a temporary reprieve during the shaky economy, but with a full recovery still far way off, the second job mentality may become permanently engrained into the American way of life.

While We’re on the Topic . . . The Labor Department said Thursday that initial claims for jobless benefits rose by 12,000 last weeks to 500,000. The recent surge in unemployment claims helped it hit the highest level since November 2009.

Image: Discover your house true affordability, via htaindex.cnt.org/

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Administration Holds Conference on Housing Finance Reform

Yesterday, August 17, U.S Treasury Department (Treasury) Secretary Timothy Geithner and U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Secretary Shaun Donovan hosted a conference on reforming the housing finance system. The focus was on what to do with the government - sponsored enterprises (GSEs) Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, who were put into conservatorship in September 2008 after the collapse of the housing market.

The four and a half hour conference was held at the Treasury building and was attended by key stakeholders including economists, investors, researchers and servicers. The Administration plans to use this conference as a way to collect ideas and begin building consensus in hopes of preparing a housing finance reform proposal that will be presented to Congress in January 2011. The agenda for the conference included opening remarks from Treasury Secretary Geithner and HUD Secretary Donovan. These statements were followed by two panel discussions and six breakout sessions on various topics.

One fundamental question, which has been asked since the GSEs went into conservatorship, of the event was what the role of the government should play in the future of housing finance. The answer remains uncertain. The Administration heard broad suggestions ranging from completely privatizing the system to leaving the current system in place. However, both Secretary Geithner and Secretary Donovan stated a stable and healthy housing finance system was necessary. They also mentioned that the current structure would need to change while suggesting that continued government support was important. The role of the GSEs in providing affordable housing was also a topic of conversation, with Secretary Donovan mentioning its importance in his opening statement, panel and breakout sessions.

A number of National Housing Conference (NHC) board members attended the event, and NHC will continue to stay involved in these discussions moving forward. NHC is particularly interested in the role of the GSEs within the multifamily housing market and are developing more specific recommendations on how the housing finance system could better support multifamily housing. In addition, NHC in partnership with a NHC - run working group, created a set of Ten Key Principles for repairing the mortgage market to help guide Congress and the Administration as they consider the future of the housing finance system.

Image: via,  ustreas.gov

Around the Block, Bi - Coastal Edition

West Coast Rallies Thousands came together on Friday 13th in LA to show their support for a slate of planned public transportation projects that would create a wealth of much- needed jobs in the region. 30/10 Plan, a visionary and revolutionary plan in the fight to promote sustainability and livability, would spur economic growth and protect the environment, create 166,000 jobs, ease congestion, and reduce air pollution and dependency on oil.

Homeowners Swimming to the Surface
According to data released yesterday by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, households continue to reduce their debt levels into the start of the summer. The bank reported that by the end of June, “households steadily reduced aggregate consumer indebtedness” for seven straight quarters.

Housing Policy Recap Tuesday, the Administration held a meeting on housing policy reform. The government’s role in housing finance and the future of GSEs were the overarching questions of the conference and whose answers have yet to be answered. Check back later today for a detailed summary of the conference from featured blogger, NHC policy associate, Clare Duncan.

Image: Outline of Mayor's 30/10 Plan, via thesource.metro.net 

Monday, August 16, 2010

Around the Block: Off to the Market Edition

A Buyer’s Market If you’re in the market for a mansion, Trulia announced that one in four home sellers cut their asking price last month making August a true buyer’s market. Here is a compilation of the mansions that have had to slash their prices anywhere from 5 to 20%.

Buzz Worthy Tuesday’s meeting on GSE reform has been the talk of the town, and the future of GSEs has been in the forefront of housing, economy, policy and political folks' minds all across the nation. Open House will have a recap highlighting the event on Wednesday.

To Double-Dip or not to Double-Dip According to 24/7 Wall St., a double-dip recession could have wide-spread and dubious implications that may continue to be felt many, many years from now.

Image: 6 bedroom, 6 bath mansion recently reduced 14% via, huffingtonpost.com

Friday, August 13, 2010

NHC and NAR Bring Workers Home in Southwest

NHC and the National Association of Realtors® came to Austin, Texas on August 12th, to host their third Bring Workers Home forum. Having weathered the economic downturn better than most and seeing continued growth, Austin has a real need for workforce housing. And attendance at the forum reflected this fact with the highest number of participants of any of the three forums, and attendees from the South Central region and as far away as Virginia and Chicago.

Covering workforce housing efforts in Oklahoma, Nevada, Texas and elsewhere throughout the southwest, the forum highlighted that states and cities are still struggling with how to provide workers with housing options near where they work. City of Austin planning officials spoke of their comprehensive planning efforts and how good data can help the planning process to assist with building inclusive neighborhoods. Employer-assisted programs are one part of the solution and several great examples were featured. All of the solutions require effective partnering, access to funds, political advocacy and leverage.

Robin Snyderman from NHC member the Metropolitan Planning Council moderated the afternoon sessions and highlighted the importance of the Livable Communities Act to continued efforts to create and preserve workforce housing in Texas and the greater region. And Francie Ferguson of NHC member NeighborWorks brought the message back home to Austin with her description of local advocacy efforts to manage the jobs-housing balance.

Image: Janet Byrum, Advance Food Company

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Around the Block: Weekly Round Up, From Down South to the District Edition

Workforce Housing Tops Agenda Yesterday, NHC and the National Association of REALTORS® hosted a forum on workforce housing in Austin, TX. The Bring Workers Home Forum brought together over 100 local, state and national housing leaders in Austin to identify effective solutions to workforce housing challenges facing the southwest region. We would like to thank all those who participated in the event, as well as the following event sponsors for making the forum a success: Austin Board of REALTORS®; Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco; International Economic Development Council; and the Metropolitan Planning Council.

Talk of the Town
The White House announced 12 panelists for Tuesday’s, August 17, government-sponsored conference next week that will kick off efforts to overhaul national housing policy. Tuesday’s conference will feature two panels on housing reform held by Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan. Some say consumer and community groups are noticeably absent from the panel.

Uncharted Territory According to mortgage giant, Freddie Mac, on Thursday mortgage rates were lower than at any time since it began tracking them in 1971. New lows have resulted in the ignition of homeowner refinancing.

Image: White House, via destination360.com

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Around the Block, Helping Hand Edition

What is Smart Growth? Wider sidewalks for biking, running or Sunday strolls? Or does it involve more trees, a robust transit system, mixed housing options or simply a friendly-place where everybody knows your name within walking distance? Kaid Benfield breaks down what Smart Growth really is by drawing upon Empire State Future definition. Some highlights: good jobs within walking distance and new construction that maximizes existing public investments. Today, NHC hosts a forum in Austin identifying the challenges of workforce housing and various solutions including Smart Growth.

The “Hardest Hit” Get Some Help The Administration is making $3 billion in aid available to jobless homeowners in order to avoid foreclosure, the WSJ reports. $2 billion was allocated to its “Hardest Hit Fund,” which provides federal grants to state housing agencies. $1 billion will be spent on a program under which the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) will help provide loans to unemployed homeowners who are have fallen behind on their mortgages.

Giving Credit Where Credit’s Due The data is in, the federal tax credits offered to homebuyers before June did help stabilize home prices during the first-half of the year, even in the hard-hit regions, according to the WSJ. But economists are hesitant to view this as a panacea, especially if signs start to point towards a drop in the market and a rise in foreclosures.

Image: switchboard.nrdc.org

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

From the Desk of Clare Duncan: What's New With NSP?

The Neighborhood Stabilization Program (NSP) provides funding to help revitalize neighborhoods affected by the foreclosure crisis by rehabilitating, redeveloping, and reusing abandoned and foreclosed properties.

In close collaboration with dedicated advocates, practitioners and other experts from across the country, NHC convenes the National Foreclosure Prevention and Neighborhood Stabilization Task Force, which has successfully advocated for nearly $7 billion in funding for NSP. The task force has also guided critical changes to improve the implementation of the program.

This task force held our monthly meeting on August 4. This meeting included a discussion with Stan Gimont, HUD’s Director for the Office of Block Grant Assistance. Here is a quick update from that meeting on how the Neighborhood Stabilization Program (NSP) is doing currently:
  •  NSP 1: The 18th month deadline for when all NSP1 funds must be obligated is quickly approaching. The NSP1 obligation rate is currently at approximately 76.6% and 70 grantees have obligated 100% of their funds. HUD’s plan for the recapture is to work on a case-by-case basis to see how and when the funds will be redistributed. Many grantees are very close to using all their funds and may just need some additional technical assistance to get them to the end.

  •  NSP 2: The second round of NSP funding is just starting to be used with 4.4% of NSP2 funds being obligated currently. While HUD and grantees are still working on some issues with program design, additional attention is expected to be paid to this round of funding after the NSP1 deadline, including more technical assistance to grantees.

  •  NSP 3: The Dodd-Frank Financial Reform bill was signed into law on July 21. This legislation includes $1 billion in funding for NSP3. This round of funding will be comparable to NSP1 given that it will be using a similar formula allocation. We should see the formula by August 23; (30 days from the President signing the legislation) however, the money will not be available till October 1 for distribution. The legislation also includes a critical, NHC-supported correction that will allow vacant properties to count towards the required 25% of funds set aside for very low-income households. HUD recently released guidance on this change, which affects all three rounds of funding.

For additional NSP related resources definitely look at HUD’s Resource Exchange website, especially the What’s New section. It is regularly being updated and has new information, webinars, and resources related to NSP.

For more information about the Taskforce please contact Clare Duncan, NHC's policy associate.

Image: via blogs.trb.com 

Around the Block, Walk (or Bike) This Way Edition

Do you live in the Southwest and are sick of driving to work? NHC and NAR are holding a forum in Austin tomorrow to discuss, among other issues, how to bring workers closer to job centers - cutting their commute and improving their quality of life.
Does Driving Make You Fat? Take a look at this great diagram from Trust for America’s Health on how people get to work by state, and the accompanying obesity rates for those states.

To Sobi, or Not to SoBi? SoBi, short for social bicycles, is a start-up company aiming to make bike-sharing more accessible by reducing up-front costs. Bikes will include a one-size fits all gizmo and bikers are given a small bonus for returning the two-wheelers to high demand areas. If successful, SoBi could add to growing trend of using alternative transit to make the U.S. a more livable nation.

Image source: awesome.good.is

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

NHC and NAR: Corralling Workers Near Home in the Southwest

NHC and the National Association of REALTORS® (NAR) will make a stop in Austin on Thursday for the third 2010 Bring Workers Home Forum focused on workforce housing and livability issues for working families. Over 100 local, state and national housing leaders will come together to identify effective solutions to workforce housing challenges facing the southwest region.

Despite the current global economic downturn, the city of Austin continues to grow both economically and in population. A report entitled Building and Retaining an Affordable Austin by ULI-Austin, HousingWorks, RECA and AARO, found Austin to be the second-fastest growing of the nation’s 20 largest cities, behind Raleigh, NC. The surrounding communities are growing at an even faster rate. But home affordability is also a bigger challenge for more families and individuals at a wider range of income levels.

Austin has been experiencing an increase in residential segregation as upper-income homeowners are edging out others from the city proper – forcing families and individuals to look to the suburbs for affordable housing. But the resulting increase in transportation costs is often not factored into the true cost of suburban living.

The NHC and NAR forum will center on the growing “cost of place” – the price of housing, transportation and utilities combined – and innovative ways to address this and other workforce housing challenges in Austin, the southwest, and across the nation.

By bringing together some of the brightest practitioners and thinkers in the southwest, the Bring Workers Home forum aims to recognize the housing needs of working families and individuals in the southwest and to work towards effective and efficient solutions.

Image: Texas cattle ranchers, via dailymail.co.uk

Around the Block, Letter 'R' Edition

eporting Red
Mortgage giant, Freddie Mac, reported a narrower second quarter loss of $4.7 billion. In order to make up for the loss, Freddie has asked the Treasury Department for an additional $1.8 billion infusion of aid.

Rail=LaHood’s Livability Prediction
During a forum held by Building America’s Future today, Secretary of Transportation LaHood was more optimistic than ever on the future of nationwide high-speed rail. “We don’t know where the lines will fall on a map or where the money will come from, but I promise you in less time that it took to create our interstates, [the country] will have high-speed rail,” said Secretary Ray LaHood. If all goes as planned, LaHood predicted 85% of the country would be connected via high-speed rail in 25 years.

Ramping up PACE-Gate We last reported tiny but strong Babylon, NY was threatening to sue the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) to save the PACE retrofitting financing program, which has resulted in a healthier job market along with a more energy efficient community. The 200,000 person town has geared up for the fight of their lives by officially filing paperwork suing FHFA this week. In order to show how effective the PACE program has been, and why Babylon thinks this is a cause worth fighting for, the video above was been produced by On Earth Magazine. FHFA released a statement in July in response to all the hoopla.

Rentals - A Hot Commodity According to the Boston Globe, the Northeast region’s rental market has tightened over the past several months due to a surge in foreclosures. Vacancy rates have fallen 6.2% and average asking rents have increased 1.2% in the Greater Boston region, both record lows and highs in 18 months.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Around the Block, Let's Talk It Out Edition

Unemployment High, Yet No One to Hire? Even with a 9.5% unemployment rate and more than 15 million Americans jobless, according to the WSJ some companies are still having difficulty filling positions.

Under But Not Out Zillow.com reported a drop in the percentage of homeowners with “underwater mortgages,” or mortgages that exceed the home’s value, in the 2nd quarter. In part, this drop is attributed to more homes entering the foreclosure process.

GSE Giants: Where are they Now? With the overhaul of the mortgage market looming, the question of where are they now and, more importantly, where are they going, is on everyone’s mind. Will there be more support for rental housing for low-income residents, or reducing all federal support for housing, Post muses. Or, could the solution posed by the NYT be as simple, and as complex, as an honest and open dialogue about the role the federal government should play in housing.

Time to Buy? Mortgage rates have risen much slower than experts originally predicted four months ago. In fact, rates are about half a percent lower than they were four months ago, with bankers, brokers and market analysts adopting an ‘any day now philosophy’ as to when the rates will rise. In the meantime, borrowers are advised to “hedge their bets by locking in a mortgage rate no more than 30 days before the closing date, just in case rates continue to decline,” said Adam Quinones, the rate strategist and managing editor of Mortgage News Daily.

Image: Early Settlers Talk Through Challenges via usf.edu

Guest Blogger Toby Halliday: Good News for Preserving Affordable Housing

On July 27, 2010, the House Financial Services Committee approved H.R. 4868, an omnibus affordable housing preservation bill to help stem the loss of affordable apartments and prevent the displacement of low-income tenants, many of who are elderly or disabled. The legislation ensures that all low and moderate-income tenants living in properties with low-cost HUD financing and rent restrictions get vouchers when those mortgages mature, and that those vouchers can be used to support long-term affordability of the property.

The bill includes sections to preserve and revitalize Section 515 rural rental housing and to streamline the refinancing and recapitalization of Section 202 elderly housing. It also establishes a preservation database to help local governments, preservation purchasers, and residents identify and save at-risk properties.

Last-minute changes made in response to private industry concerns modified a provision providing for the purchase of HUD-assisted housing at fair market value by vesting this option with state housing agencies instead of HUD; limited state and local preservation laws protected from federal pre-emption; and limited property information that can be made available to residents, excluding all personal and proprietary information. The Committee also struck a provision allowing residents to escrow their rents to ensure owners fix building violations: a HUD study of the issue was approved instead.

The Committee also adopted amendments offered by Rep. Tom Price to allow residents to own guns in Section 8 properties and to require documentation of citizenship, including a Social Security card or passport. This language is strenuously opposed by members concerned about its likely impact on eligible residents who don’t have a Social Security card or birth certificate, including the elderly, frequent movers or individuals who weren’t born in hospitals.

The difficulty of moving legislation makes enactment of the entire bill unlikely this year, but the National Housing Trust and other advocates will continue to work for adoption of this important legislation.

Toby Halliday is vice president of NHC member the National Housing Trust. The National Housing Trust preserves and revitalizes affordable apartments to better the quality of life for the families and elderly who live there.

Image: Toby Halliday, via nhtinc.org

Friday, August 6, 2010

Around the Block, WWMJD Edition

Even in Death, King of Pop Not Recession Proof Michael Jackson’s mansion, which rented for $100,000 a month until the time of his death, was just reduced in price. For a mere $29 million you too can enjoy the 17,000 square foot estate modeled after a French chateau.

Glass Half Full or Empty? The forecast for a speedy and prosperous housing recovery does not look promising in the near future, with Fannie reporting $1.2 billion in losses last quarter.

Mortgage Hail Mary, cont There’s a lot of chatter brewing over whether the Obama administration will order Fannie and Freddie to forgive the mortgage debt of millions of struggling homeowners, effectively creating a massive, GSE-generated “stimulus.”

The Holy Grail Nick Timiraos, in today’s WSJ blog, boils down how to solve the housing crisis with simple economics. He cites jobs as the most important housing market factor because they are able to boost housing demand and limit supply. Now, if only we can figure out a way to create millions of jobs. . .

 Image: Michael Jackson in his younger years, via cleancutmedia.com 
Image: Jackson's Hollywood Hills home, via blogs.wsj.com

Ch Ch Ch Changes

NHC will be bidding farewell to one of our own.

Tim O’Keefe, who has been the mastermind behind the fresh, new content adopted by NHC’s “Open House” blog, will be leaving NHC and moving to Chicago. Tim will be working at Dig Communications, a small firm that works with a lot of sustainability clients, including some leading green energy start-ups.

Due in no small part to Tim’s quick-wit, intelligence and enviable writing talent, “Open House” has made a change for the better. From more diverse and thoughtful content, to an increasingly engaged readership, his contributions to the blog and NHC will have a lasting impact.

Today is his last day, so please join us in thanking Tim!

Katy Gorman will become NHC’s new communications and digital media associate starting on Monday and, with her help, we will continue to move the affordable housing discussion forward on "Open House", building on Tim’s hard work.

Did We Cause the Crisis?, cont.

To get our extended, “Livability” topic started, we thought we’d feature some responses to our “Did We Cause the Crisis” post from Monday. In case you missed it, the questions we were addressing came from Jonathan Hiskes, on whether smart-growth land use restrictions can actually cause housing bubbles (in other words, whether “livability” can be affordable and sustainable in the long term).

Open House reader, Kurt, makes a solid point:
"We have to be very careful in interpreting [Huang and Tang’s] results… The index [that the report draws from] measures a whole range of supply restrictions [including land use regulation]. Very few, if any, of the supply restrictions actually measured have anything to do with "smart growth." Actually, if you look at the data carefully, communities that engaged in "dumb growth" (only single-family, detached on large lots, no transit, mixed-use, etc.) had the highest rates of house price appreciation and then fast rates of decline with the substantial weakening of demand starting in late 2007. The data is equally consistent with a hypothesis that smart growth areas performed better because they did not have the drastic swings in house prices. Of course, that argument too is way too much of a generalization."
It’s true, the research Jonathan Hiskes was looking at doesn’t address smart growth directly, but rather looks at land restrictions of all sorts. In terms of regulation, that could include “things like gated communities and large lot restrictions which are actually anti-smart growth,” as Alex Steffen puts it. Hiskes’ main question – which we picked up on – was how the report related to smart growth laws specifically. Overall, it seems Kurt hits the nail on the head: the report does not, in fact, appear to discredit smart growth. It’s findings are too broad, and the ways in which it deals with “smart growth” are much too narrow.

Another reader has an opposing view:

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Around the Block, Mortgage Miracles Edition

At a Glance Despite a slumbering market, home builder D.R. Horton says its home sales jumped 60% last quarter, according to the NYT.

Mortgage Hail Mary? Does James Pathokoukis know something you don’t know? Maybe that the Obama administration will order Fannie and Freddie to forgive mortgage debt for millions of struggling homeowners this month? Calculated Risk isn’t buying it.

Straightening Out the FHA’s Wallet, cont. The Senate voted unanimously today to let the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) to charge higher fees on new mortgage loans.

Biking Statesman, cont. The NYT’s City Room blog takes a shot at Dan Maes, the Republican candidate for governor in Colorado, for tying bike enthusiasts to UN conspirators.

Foreclosures Hurt, cont. How do you  avoid foreclosure when resources are running out? Finding Superman in your basement could help.

Image: Man of Steel, via huffingtonpost.com

"Livability" Lift-Off: What Does it Mean to You?

Regular readers have probably noticed our focus on sustainability, transit, smart growth, and urban revival recently. NHC and the Center are working to get local, state and national lawmakers ahead of the curve on what appears to be an emerging shift in housing demand, where more and more folks are moving back into the dense, inner-areas in America’s metro regions, and away from the sprawling suburbs.

Today, we are officially launching an extended, Open House discussion of “Livability” to look at the topic and its many angles. Coming on the heels of the innovative, landmark livability legislation that’s making its way through the Senate, we’ll be discussing ways to make communities more affordable, greener, more walkable, and overall, better-suited to meet the needs of their residents in a sustainable way. There will be guest posts from experts in sustainability, regular input from the research team at the Center for Housing Policy, and in depth discussions of specific, timely issues in the world of livability.

We’ll also be making an effort to feature comments and thoughts from readers. So to kick things off, why don’t use the comments section below to let us know what you livability means to you?

Is it more metro stations? Affordable housing? Clean water? Better schools? Play space for the kids? A Chipotle on every corner? We're dying to hear.