Saturday, June 28, 2008 - Constantly Updated Neighborhood News for Fort Bend County, TX

Murder in gated community in Fort Bend County, TX: "The family of a Weston Lakes woman stabbed to death in her home is asking the public for help in finding the man who is accused of the murder.

The family of Martha Fields appeared at a Crime Stoppers press conference Friday to ask anyone with information on the whereabouts of Marwan Saeed to come forward and help police take accused killer into custody. Crime Stoppers is offering a $5000 reward to anyone providing the information leading to the arrest of Saeed.

Fields, 54, was stabbed during a robbery attempt last Dec. 11 in her home in the gated Weston Lakes community. She died in a hospital two days later...Police say the trio bluffed their way into the gated community by pretending to be making a delivery. The Fields home was targeted because of a mistaken belief that there was a large amount of cash in a safe in the residence."

I doubt that gates and rent-a-cops keep people safe from criminals who are targeting specific residences.

Hitting Home: New faces join ranks of the homeless -

Hitting Home: New faces join ranks of the homeless - "With more families on the cusp of having nowhere to live, thousands of both former homeowners and renters are winding up in shelters or turning to charities for food or other aid to get by. Nearly 61% of local and state homeless coalitions say they've seen a rise in homelessness since the foreclosure crisis began in 2007, according to a study released in April by the National Coalition for the Homeless. According to the study, which let respondents offer multiple replies when asked where they're headed once their property is foreclosed on, 76% of displaced homeowners and renters are moving in with relatives and friends. About 54% are moving to emergency shelters. About 40% are already on the streets. Those facing homelessness include the working poor, who were among those hardest hit by the collapse in subprime mortgages. But others are middle-class families who scarcely expected to find themselves unable to afford their homes."
This study is by an advocacy group and that makes it suspect. But the point about middle class people facing major problems due to foreclosure seems pretty clear.

Friday, June 27, 2008 | Colorado's Online News Leader | New HOA law allows clothes lines in neighborhoods | Colorado's Online News Leader | New HOA law allows clothes lines in neighborhoods: "KUSA - Beginning in August, homeowners living in covenant controlled communities will able to install energy saving devises such as evaporative coolers, wind-electric generators and clothes lines, as long as those devises meet home owner association aesthetic guidelines.

House Bill 1270 was signed by Governor Ritter last April and will go into effect August 6, 2008.

The bill provides guidelines to homeowner associations (HOAs) and homeowners on the types of energy efficiency/conservation devises that can be installed and used in covenant controlled (HOA) communities."

Sounds like a good law to me. What do other people think?
Longer subdivision construction time frames force shift in expenses - to homeowners!: "Residential construction slowdowns that extend subdivision build-outs are forcing developers to absorb expenses typically turned over to homeowner associations. In some cases, experts said, developer bankruptcy or foreclosure is shifting the burden to the new homeowners or residential builders for maintenance costs - such as landscaping and care for common areas - typically borne by developers. 'We're starting to see these problems now, and we're looking at the tip of the iceberg,' said Michelle Harrell, attorney with Maddin, Hauser, Wartell, Roth & Heller PC. 'We're on the edge of the cliff.'
In the best cases, solvent and surviving developers foster relationships with the fledgling associations or new homeowners until they get to the tipping point where the association can manage the communities, even when the building timeline has stretched beyond what they anticipated...But not every development goes so smoothly. In the worst cases, financially strapped builders and developers neglect the maintenance and development of common areas and stormwater detention ponds, leaving the homeowners to pay for those services out of pocket with little to no chance of being reimbursed."

So rush right out and buy those CID properties today, so you too can play the "Special Assessment Lottery" in which you have a chance to pay a one-time-only sum of $10,000, or $20,000, or even $30,000, that your developer or your fellow owners should have paid. Act now, and our gift to you is a free beach towel that you can cry in.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Needles…..Nevada?? « On The Scene « "We’ve come here because some people in Needles [California] want to become Needles Nevada, or even Needles Arizona. They feel because the county seat is more than 200 miles away and the Grand Canyon and Silver State’s are so close, it might be better to move. Regulation across the river is easier, taxes are lower and other communities are booming…while Needles just nestles."
As Rod Serling used to say, submitted for your consideration: Needles, California. A town slightly cooler than the surface of the sun. A place so hot, the farmers are feeding their chickens crushed ice to keep them from laying hard-boiled eggs; the cows are giving evaporated milk; the trees are whistling for the dogs. And other stolen "it's so hot" jokes...

Cases of three cats gutted or shot in La Quinta now linked | L.A. Unleashed | Los Angeles Times

Cases of three cats gutted or shot in La Quinta now linked Los Angeles Times: "A gutted cat was found May 30 on Desert Stream Drive near La Quinta Park, the day after a feline was found shot in the gated community of Starlight Dunes. Gregory said the owners discarded the cats before the Sheriff’s Department could examine the carcasses. 'We didn’t have any physical evidence on the cats,' Gregory said. 'And a few weeks went by and it looked like isolated incidents until last week’s killing.' Gregory said it was clear that the gutted cats had not been attacked by an animal."
The game is afoot, Watson. I suggest we begin by cross-referencing escaped lunatics and people with cat allergies.

Seriously, anybody who would do this to a cat is pretty far down the clemency ladder for me. And it is strange that it happens in a gated community.

Bad Economy Blows Out Central Fla. City's 4th Of July Fireworks Display - Money News Story - WKMG Orlando

Bad Economy Blows Out Central Fla. City's 4th Of July Fireworks Display - Money News Story - WKMG Orlando: "COCOA BEACH, Fla. -- Citing a downturn in the economy, Cocoa Beach officials on Wednesday announced that the city will not host a Fourth of July fireworks display this year.

Cocoa Beach city manager Charles Billias said the display, which costs up to $70,000, was too expensive."

Maybe Spain would like to buy back Cocoa Beach (see below re Mexicans buying Texas property). News News: "Forge the Alamo! Remember the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo!": "A rising peso and an economy growing faster than the U.S. have given some Mexicans the buying power to take advantage of the housing slump in Texas, which the U.S. annexed in 1845 after Texans gained independence from Mexico nine years earlier."
Irony alert--this one will make your head spin. Mexicans are positioned to buy back lots of property in Texas, and the sales pitch is cowgirls standing next to a sign reading, "TEXAS FOR SALE."

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

SCOTUSblog » A new vote for property rights?

SCOTUSblog » A new vote for property rights?: "The Supreme Court refused on Monday, amid a flurry of orders, to reopen the heated controversy over the power of government to seize private property for a new economic development project, but owners of property appeared to have picked up a potential new ally on the Court. Justice Samual A. Alito, Jr., was the only member of the Court to note that he would have granted review of a significant Second Circuit Court ruling on property rights in the face of a massive new project in the Prospect Heights section of Brooklyn, N.Y.

The Court as a whole turned down an appeal by a group of homeowners and business operators who are likely to lose their property to the 22-acre development near the rail yards for the Long Island Railroad. That development, planned by a group headed by developer Bruce Ratner, is the Atlantic Yards Arena and Development Project; it will provide a new home for the New Jersey Nets professional basketball team (which Ratner owns), plus 16 high-rise office and aprtment towers, and a 180-room hotel. The failed appeal by property owners involves about 20 percent of the development site. (Their appeal to the Supreme Court came in Goldstein, et al., v. Pataki, et al., 07-1247)."

Mystery Reader sent this SCOTUSblog piece by Lyle Denniston speculating about Samuel Alito being a balance-tipping fifth vote in favor of property rights. Intriguing possibility--and a whole lot depends on the presidential election, too, because that may determine who makes three or four USSC appointments.
Escaping an HOA in Texas isn't easy | Latest News | "What if you don't want the rules that come with a homeowners' association? Where can you go? As it turns out, your options are getting more limited every year."
From Fred Pilot. The evidence piles up that people are having their choices made for them by cities and developers, and yet we keep hearing about how people "chose" to live in an HOA. We are reaching the point where you won't be able NOT to.

Deputies Can't Stop Animal Sacrifices Inside Waterford Lakes Home - News Story - WFTV Orlando

Deputies Can't Stop Animal Sacrifices Inside Waterford Lakes Home - News Story - WFTV Orlando: "Inside the rented house, deputies told Jade Forest homeowners they interrupted a goat sacrifice on Friday as part of a Santeria ceremony. 'I don't like any kind of odd thing happening. I mean, I don't know? Maybe that's where they start and then go further with dogs and cats,' the unidentified neighbor said. It's not likely in the Santeria religion, where only goats and chickens are sacrificed, but neighbors have done research recently. The Internet offers plenty on sacrifice rituals with chickens and goats. In 1993, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that humane religious animal sacrifice is protected by the U.S. Constitution. On the porch of the home Monday there were rotting meatballs and watermelon, along with a religious vase. Eyewitness News reporter Steve Barrett tried to ask about the Santeria practices, but was politely turned away."
Shu Bartholomew sent this. The Supreme Court case is Church of the Lukumi Babalu v. City of Hialeah. The article misstates the ruling. The Hialeah ordinances were invalidated because they were obviously targeted only at the Santeria "religion." If there had been generally applicable ordinances that did not target Santeria, that might have been a different story, especially since Employment Division v. Smith. But in any event, there are some obvious public safety issues here with rotting meat and animal carcasses in a residential neighborhood.

City says all decks at condo complex appear to be unsafe | Warwick | | The Providence Journal

City says all decks at condo complex appear to be unsafe -- The Providence Journal: "WARWICK –– A deck collapse at the Greenbrier Condominiums that badly injured several women on Saturday led to the city’s discovery that all of the decks at the 20-year-old complex appeared to be unsafe...Several friends were enjoying a dinner on a neighbor’s first-floor deck when it suddenly gave way. As the deck pulled away from the building, the second-story deck also crashed down on top of the women –– with only a large air-conditioning unit and porch furniture keeping them from being crushed under the falling wood, Pagliaro said. Five women, including the president and vice president of the condominium association, were crushed under the rubble and had to be freed by firefighters. All of them suffered bruises and broken bones."
A 20 year old complex with unsafe structural conditions that had already been repaired-- inadequately, it seems. Nobody responsible for repairing the place except the owners. Builder protected by statute of limitations. Insurance probably doesn't cover it. This is the picture that a lot of associations will be facing over the next decade.

Condos upping fees to cope with downturn -- South Florida

Condos upping fees to cope with downturn -- South Florida "The souring economy has condo and homeowner associations facing the same problem as many owners: less money.Throughout South Florida, boards are grappling with how to keep up property values as fewer owners pay their assessments. Although foreclosing on a unit is one way to collect the money, the cost is high and the homes are unlikely to sell. So boards must look for alternatives. The most common practice is also the most unfair. Boards 'overassess' the remaining owners by 10 percent to 20 percent, said Gary Poliakoff, whose Fort Lauderdale-based firm represents 4,300 associations in Florida. Others are eliminating services."
Associations don't have many options because the whole financial burden falls on the owners who can pay. The over-reliance on owners to finance and run these associations is the weak link in this whole utopian idea.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

My Way News - Housing aid bill clears key Senate hurdle: "WASHINGTON (AP) - A massive foreclosure rescue bill overwhelmingly cleared a key Senate test Tuesday, drawing broad support from Democrats and Republicans alike. The Senate voted 83-9 to speed up work on the $300 billion mortgage aid plan, putting it on track for a final vote as early as the end of the day. The resounding vote reflected a keen interest in both parties in claiming election-year credit for helping homeowners amid tough economic times. Still, the measure faces a veto threat from President Bush and disputes among Democrats about key details. Those challenges will probably delay any final deal until mid-July."
I have some serious reservations about the federal government in effect insuring people against the risk that they bought too much house. I also have doubts about bailing out the mortgage industry and using the FHA to be the mortgage company of last resort. This bill stinks as far as I can see, and I hope Bush vetoes it.

Las Vegas Now | Homeowner Destroys House Before Foreclosure

Las Vegas Now | Homeowner Destroys House Before Foreclosure: "The owner of a local mortgage company is about to lose three of his homes to foreclosure. The notice came as a surprise to some of his renters, but what is really shocking is what's happening at one of the homes. Neighbors say the owner is destroying it from the inside out. It went from tossing pieces of junk to dumping it by the box full. The back yard turned into a garbage pile -- from cabinets ripped off the walls to old tires and even computer discs. The front of the home looks no better. With caulking filling the door jams and locks and orange spray paint across the windows."

Beijing embraces Brave New World of buildings -

Beijing embraces Brave New World of buildings - "Standing on the edge of the former site of the city's historic walls are a series of eight asymmetrical towers that bestride the smog-laden landscape like a colossus."
There has never been a construction boom like what is happening in China right now. The photo of this "Linked Hybrid" complex is really weird. And all this stuff is common interest housing with private management companies and voluntary homeowner associations. Worldwide

Housing prices still falling fast: "Home prices in 20 U.S. metropolitan areas fell in April by the most on record, signaling the housing recession is far from over, a private survey showed today.

The S&P/Case-Shiller home-price index dropped 15.3 percent from a year earlier, less than forecast, after a 14.3 percent decline in March. The gauge has fallen every month since January 2007."

Far from over, indeed.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Many Dutch prepare for 2012 apocalypse - "AMSTERDAM, Netherlands, June 23 (UPI) -- Thousands of people in the Netherlands say they expect the world to end in 2012, and many say they are taking precautions to prepare for the apocalypse.
The Dutch-language de Volkskrant newspaper said it spoke to thousands of believers in the impending end of civilization, and while theories on the supposed catastrophe varied, most tied the 2012 date to the end of the Mayan calendar, Radio Netherlands reported Monday."

So I guess a 30 year mortgage is a pretty good deal after all. If you get one today, it is really only a four year loan at less than 6% interest. This could turn the housing market around.

An end to stepping in dog poo?: "STEPPING in dog poo might be a thing of the past thanks to a new policy being introduced in one UK park.

Mansfield District Council has decided to spray the excrement with bright pink die in an attempt to cure the problem of messy pavements."

Pink doggy poo poo. How cute. And I thought government was about national defense, law and order, and stuff like that.

Vandals Hit South Charlotte Community - Charlotte News Story - WSOC Charlotte

Vandals Hit South Charlotte Community - Charlotte News Story - WSOC Charlotte: "Several people in a south Charlotte gated community woke up to vandalism Sunday morning. It happened sometime before daylight on Sharon Road near Fairview Road.

Police said vandals spray-painted buildings, cars, and even smashed the window of one vehicle. All the graffiti was an anarchy symbol, painted on a door, light poles and cars."

I guess that's anarchy, all right.

Gated community considers incorporation | | The Desert Sun

Gated community considers incorporation | | The Desert Sun: "A group of Sun City Palm Desert residents, looking to block nearby Indio from expanding westward, hope to make their 55-and-older gated community the Coachella Valley's 10th city."

For him, it was 'always ... community first' | | The Honolulu Advertiser

For him, it was 'always ... community first' | | The Honolulu Advertiser: "As mayor, his push for community inclusiveness was evident in his proposed legislation banning gated entrances in future developments."

New Pr. William Arrivals Bitter -

New Prince William County, MD, Arrivals Bitter - "The Board of County Supervisors is scrambling to cope with the costs of Prince William being one of Virginia's fastest-growing counties in a time of slumping home values. The problems are magnified by the foreclosures, which are partly to blame for the average value of homes decreasing by $61,328.

To make up the lost revenue, supervisors raised the county's real estate tax rate by 19 cents to 97 cents per $100 of assessed valuation. That will push the average homeowner's tax bill up by 5 percent in the coming budget year."

And people who just arrived are feeling somewhat honked off. Thanks to Shu Bartholomew for the pointer.

L.A. seeing more people living out of their cars

L.A. seeing more people living out of their cars: "Amid the foreclosure crisis and the shaky economy, some California cities are seeing an increase in the number of people living out of their cars, vans or RVs. Acting on complaints from homeowners, the Los Angeles City Council got tough earlier this year by forbidding nearly all overnight parking in residential neighborhoods such as South Brentwood. But some people are just crowding into other parts of the city, including the seaside community of Venice, where dozens of rusty, dilapidated campers can be seen lined up outside neat single-family homes. The stench of urine emanates from a few of the vehicles, and some residents say they have seen human waste left behind."
Looking on the bright side, living in your car solves two problems at once. You don't need to pay for a house, and you don't need to buy gas.

Report: US housing slump a prelude to recession

Report: US housing slump a prelude to recession: "NEW YORK (AP) - A bottom to the housing slump is nowhere in sight and, if history is any guide, a recession is mostly likely lurking around the corner, an academic study showed Monday.

Harvard University's Joint Center for Housing Studies painted a bleak picture of the current housing downturn, pegging it as possibly being 'the worst in a generation' in its 'The State of the Nation's Housing 2008' report."

That good news just keeps on coming. How about that part about the bottom of the housing slump being "nowhere in sight"?

Sunday, June 22, 2008

HOA fees go unpaid

HOA fees go unpaid: "Despite its crisp appearance, including lavish water fountains and well-kept greens, the Villages at Rancho El Dorado Homeowners Association in Maricopa struggles to pay its bills.

Like several HOAs across the state, more than 30 percent of its residents skipped out on paying their mandatory membership fees, a result of the subprime mortgage crisis and looming foreclosures."

The stories on unpaid HOA and condo fees are piling up. The collections and foreclosure lawyers are busy. How long before we start reading about bankrupt HOAs? Thanks to Fred Pilot for the link