Thursday, September 08, 2005

Guilty plea made in housing case
From Nancy Levy--major crime in Privatopia...

Former real estate agent Phil Benson pleaded guilty Wednesday to 24 counts of mail and wire fraud in connection with the illegal conversion of apartments to condominiums in Huntington Beach. Benson, 73, of Hayden, Idaho, will be sentenced Feb. 6 along with former Mayor Pam Houchen and two others who also pleaded guilty to fraud last week. They were among eight real estate professionals and investors indicted by a federal grand jury in December for their involvement in a scheme to convert apartment buildings to condos using forged documents.

Attorney general weighs in on nixing Columbia Council
Interesting interaction between public and private government, forwarded by Nancy Levy. I am impressed that a public official took the time to opine on this issue, because I see so many examples of a hands-off approach that leaves associations to their own devices.

Doing away with the Columbia Council will not make it more difficult for elected Columbia Association officials to communicate with residents, according to a letter of advice from the office of Maryland's attorney general. The Aug. 18 letter from Robert A. Zarnoch, Maryland's assistant attorney general, addresses a Columbia Association board of directors' proposal to eliminate its role as the council. "In my view, the proposed elimination of the Columbia Council would not prevent the free exchange of views between CA directors and village residents," Zarnoch wrote in his letter. "Nor would it alter the directors' existing duty of loyalty to CA, their trustee responsibility with respect to CA members, or their obligation with respect to nondisclosure of confidential information."

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Marion County HOA Neighborhood Won't Allow Hurricane Evacuees
Fred Pilot sent along this story about your friendly neighborhood HOA that using the CC&Rs to squelch any outpouring of generosity on the part of its residents:

Deeds aren't the only thing restricted in one Southwest Marion County community, as residents learned over the weekend that they won't be able to house hurricane evacuees who fled from the Gulf Coast. Citizens at each home in Majestic Oaks subdivision near Ocala received flyers on Saturday reminding them of the community's by-laws, which also explained that housing evacuees would be a violation of those rules. The flyers were distributed by the community's Homeowners Association Board of Directors after its members learned that a minister who lives in the neighborhood planned on housing families from the Gulf Coast.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Housing Slowdown Could Spell Trouble
Oh, could. For a lot of folks with interest-only and variable-rate loans.

WASHINGTON - The nation's red-hot housing market may finally be nearing its peak, meaning the end of double-digit annual percentage price gains for homeowners and potential trouble for more recent purchasers who stretched to buy... In July, sales of existing homes fell by 2.6 percent even though the nationwide median price rose to a record $218,000. Homes in some areas are staying on the market longer before they sell and the Mortgage Bankers Association reports that its index of demand for home mortgages now stands 11 percent below a June peak.

Monday, September 05, 2005

Yahoo! News Photo: aerial view of buses not used to evacuate poor folks in New Orleans by Mayor who blames it all on Bush
Somewhere along the line I'd like to see if we could get a straight answer as to why some 500 municipal and school buses were not use to evacuate people who did not have private transportation in advance of the hurricane. Just asking...

An aerial view of flooded school buses in a lot, Thursday, Sept. 1, 2005, in New Orleans, LA. The flood is a result of Hurricane Katrina that passed through the area last Monday.(AP Photo/Phil Coale)
Vanished, Under Force of Time and an Inconstant Earth

This one gets pretty close to profound...
Nothing lasts forever. Just ask Ozymandias, or Nate Fisher. Only the wind inhabits the cliff dwellings at Mesa Verde in Colorado, birds and vines the pyramids of the Maya. Sand and silence have swallowed the clamors of frankincense traders and camels in the old desert center of Ubar. Troy was buried for centuries before it was uncovered. Parts of the Great Library of Alexandria, center of learning in the ancient world, might be sleeping with the fishes, off Egypt's coast in the Mediterranean. "Cities rise and fall depending on what made them go in the first place," said Peirce Lewis, an expert on the history of New Orleans and an emeritus professor of geography at Pennsylvania State University.
Katrina could prompt new black "great migration" - Yahoo! News
HOUSTON (Reuters) - If refugees end up building new lives away from New Orleans, Hurricane Katrina may prompt the largest U.S. black resettlement since the 20th century's Great Migration lured southern blacks to the North in a search for jobs and better lives. Interviews with refugees in Houston, which is expecting many thousands of evacuees to remain, suggest that thousands of blacks who lost everything and had no insurance will end up living in Texas or other U.S. states.

Katrina's wrath spares some, not all the affluent
From Fred Pilot, who notes that Privatopia took a hit. When I was at a gated communities conference at the University of New Orleans last year, we toured a couple of such places. One was called something like English Retreat, and the other was in or near Metairie.
METAIRIE, Louisiana (Reuters) - While the poor black neighborhoods of New Orleans suffered the most visible destruction from Hurricane Katrina, even affluent suburbs did not escape the wrath of the storm. Metairie, about 10 miles east of New Orleans on the shores of Lake Pontchartrain, has a predominantly white, middle and upper crust population living in spacious, comfortable homes. While parts of the suburb escaped major damage, other areas of Metairie remained under three to four feet of flood waters on Monday. Some residents said they expected their homes to be a complete loss.

Justices (except Souter) pay tribute to Rehnquist
(CNN) -- The Supreme Court released statements by seven Supreme Court justices who paid tribute to Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist, who died Saturday. A statement from Justice David Souter is not expected, the court said.

I wonder why Souter is tongue-tied. It shouldn't be hard to say something on an occasion like this. Stevens, Ginsburg, and Breyer made gracious statements. Why not the other liberal as well?

Sunday, September 04, 2005

Homeowners Groups Fight to Stay Afloat
Tremendous piece of reporting from the Washington Post, sent by Fred Pilot.

When communities such as Hidden Lake were built, a homeowners association seemed like a great idea: Residents would chip in for the upkeep of what then was a summer community. Today, however, Hidden Lake is a full-fledged Washington suburb, with residents too busy to volunteer and facing problems beyond their expertise. The community's governing documents have expired -- jeopardizing its authority -- and the neighborhood is at war over what could be a $500,000 bill to repair the community dam. Hidden Lake's problems mirror those cropping up at first-generation, association-run communities across the country as they deal with aging infrastructure and outdated or poorly written covenants that make it impossible to enforce rules, increase dues to cover rising costs or resolve disputes.

City Councilman Unearths Magical Zoning Amulet

Mystery Reader sends this post from The Onion that just about says it all about zoning. I just got back from the American Political Science Association annual meeting in Washington, DC, which is why I haven't been posting. There were 7000 people waiting to use about six computers. I'm co-charing the urban politics sections panels for next year's conference in Philadelphia. Think there will be one on homeowner associations? Book it.

ROCHESTER, NY—After years spent poring over mysterious and arcane plat sheets and deciphering long-forgotten building codes, city councilmember Mike LaMere unearthed the mysterious City Zoning Amulet Friday. "Behold!" LaMere said, holding aloft the solid-gold amulet, which is emblazoned with the Ever-Evaluating Eye of Surr-Vey, Lord Of Demarcation, He Who Measures And Assesses. "With this sigil, the power of zoning comes. Through me, the power of zoning flows! All will behold my power, and I shall bow to no man when designating matter-of-right developments for major retail and office spaces to a maximum lot occupancy of 75 percent for residential use!"