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Housing Matters 5-18-11

 

Executive Director's Notes

Spring is often the busiest time of year for all of us. It’s easy to get caught up in the minutia of our daily tasks and lose sight of the bigger picture. We’ve been working diligently in the legislature on a variety of issues and we’ve noticed that many folks are caught up in numbers and statistics. Many have forgotten the urgency of the housing crisis and the thousands of folks in our communities who still need a safe, decent place to call home.

In our last Housing Matters, we talked about the National Low Income Housing Coalition’s Out of Reach Report. I’m sure you found this updated information as sobering as I did - half of the renters in NC do not make enough money to afford a 2 bedroom apartment at the fair market rent! 

Every day we get calls and emails from folks all across the state in need of housing assistance. Hearing their stories reminds us of the importance of adequate funding for housing programs, the need for strong consumer protections, and the importance of supportive services are for our most vulnerable populations. At a very difficult period in our economic history with budget deficits at the local, state and federal level, it is easy to have these issues reduced to just balancing numbers on a page. Regardless of budget challenges, there are some things we must do to be a successful and sustainable community! Funding for affordable housing and services for our most vulnerable populations is not a luxury – it is an investment that will either save us or cost us in the future.

An often misunderstood, under-served and vulnerable population are our veterans. Today we met with Jeff Smith who leads the Veterans Leadership Council of NC-Cares (VLCNC-Cares). He shared some shocking statistics with us - one out of every three veterans returning from Iraq or Afghanistan suffer from mental health issues, including post-traumatic stress syndrome and an average of 18 veterans a day commit suicide. VLCNC-Cares is one of the few organizations working to connect homeless veterans to the services they need including finding safe and affordable housing. One way we can help them in their mission is to demand ample funding for the Housing Trust Fund which helps create housing for those who have sacrificed for our country.  

Please take some time each week to let legislators know you care about these issues and what they mean for folks back home in their districts.

See Carley’s Legislative Update below for details on all of the issues we’re working on and how you can get involved.

North Carolina Housing News

The Community Reinvestment Association of North Carolina is hosting part II of the Modify This tour on June 14th. We’ll be joining them as they take housing counselors, clients and advocates to Washington DC to advocate with policy makers regarding loan modifications and funding for housing counseling.

We will meet with top enforcement officials from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, FDIC, JP Morgan Chase, and others so they can hear your concerns. The bus will leave Durham at 6:30 am and return at 11:00 pm. *Limited Seating is Available*

Click Here to get more information or click here to register!

See the Announcements section below for information on Foreclosure, Affordable Housing and Housing Counselor events coming up in Greensboro, Charlotte and Concord.

Save the Date – NC Affordable Housing Conference
Nov 1st and 2nd, Raleigh Civic Center

Mark your calendars for this year’s NC Affordable Housing Conference.  It will again be at the Raleigh Civic Center.  More details to come  in future mailings.

Thanks again for your continued support!

Chris Estes
Executive Director

 

Legislative Update

State

NC Housing Trust Fund – Campaign Update

Alongside our affordable housing allies listed below, NCHC continues to walk the halls of the General Assembly advocating for a dedicated revenue source for the NC Housing Trust Fund.  This sustainable funding source, that will grow as the economy rebounds, means more safe, quality, affordable housing for persons with disabilities, seniors living on a fixed income, homeless families, victims of domestic violence, and working families.

The need for affordable housing in NC is greater than it has been in decades. North Carolina has a shortage of 328,000 rental homes and apartments for people with incomes below 50% of local median income. North Carolina's poverty rate has increased from 12.3% to 16.3% since 2000.  At the same time, rents have increased by 30%. The NC Housing Trust Fund is the state's more effective tool for financing housing for our most vulnerable citizens and is needed now more than ever!

Lending you voice to this cause is crucial! Call or email your state Senator today
and tell them that the NC Housing Trust Fund is needed now more than ever!  Urge your Senator to support SB 462!

SB 462 modifies the distribution of the revenue from a real estate tax to include the NC Housing Trust Fund. It would ensure that some of the money generated from real estate sales is used to fill the housing affordability gap. The Housing Trust Fund would share this revenue with the Parks and Recreation Trust Fund and Natural Heritage Trust Fund, allowing for both the preservation of open space and the creation and preservation of housing for our state’s most vulnerable citizens.

For more information on the bills, a list of talking points click here.

To find the contact information for your legislator, click here.

This legislation is supported by the NC Housing Coalition, NC Coalition to End Homelessness, NC Coalition Against Domestic Violence, Disability Rights NC, The Arc of NC, AARP, United Way of NC, NC Apartment Association, NC Community Development Initiative, NC Bankers Association, and the NC Justice Center, with additional support from the NC Home Builders Association and the NC Association of Realtors.

Act Today to Oppose Predatory Small Loans in NC!

HB 810, Consumer Finance Act Amendments, would substantially increase the cost of small consumer finance loans in North Carolina.  Consumer finance companies can already charge up to a 54% annual interest rate on loans.  This bill would not only legalize loans with much higher APRs, it would also encourage loan flipping, increase the size of high-cost small loans, allow fee and loan sizes to increase every year, and add numerous additional fee.  Making these loans more expensive would be a disaster for struggling families in North Carolina.

HB 810 will be considered in the House Banking Committee Thursday, May 19.  Contact House members and urge them to Vote NO on HB 810!

Click here
to view the Center for Responsible Lending’s action alert and to contact the members of the House Banking Committee.

Residential Building Inspections

Companion bills SB 683 and HB 554, Residential Building Inspections, will likely be heard in the Senate or House Commerce Committee within the next few weeks.  These bills would limit the authority of counties and municipalities to conduct periodic inspections of residential properties. 

If passed, the legislation would only allow inspections departments to conduct periodic inspections if there is reasonable cause that unsafe, unsanitary, or hazardous conditions exist. In the case of this bill, “reasonable cause” means: the landlord has a substantial history of noncompliance; there has been as report of substandard conditions or the occupant has requested an inspection; the inspection department has actual knowledge of unsafe conditions as a result of routine business activities. The bills specify that a county/municipality may require periodic residential building inspections within a Community Development Block Grant geographic area. The bills also prohibit a county/municipality from requiring registration of rental property, requiring permits or permission to lease a property, requiring participation or enrollment in a government program as a condition of obtaining a Certificate of Occupancy, or levying a special fee or tax on residential rental property.

If you have concerns about these bills, click the links above to find the list of sponsors and their contact information.  You may also contact members of the Senate Commerce Committee and House Commerce Committee.

Bedbug Liability

A bill assigning responsibility for bedbug infestations of rental property has been introduced in the NC House and has been referred to the House Commerce Committee. Broadly, HB 721 assigns the responsibility of a bedbug infestation to the tenant after the first 30 days of renting a property. The tenant would be responsible for reporting the infestation to the landlord and the incurring the cost of extermination. We believe that the bill is unfair in placing the lion’s share of liability on tenants for a problem that they may have very little control of. Bedbugs are not easy to detect, reproduce quickly, can be transported to the rental unit from literally any place and by anyone that has been in contact with the pest, including not only the tenant, but also the property owner, managers, contractors and more. As an alternative to the provisions of HB 721 NCHC and the NC Justice Center have suggested to the sponsors that a “task force” of experts and stakeholders review the problem of bedbugs in NC, review other states’ efforts, and make recommendations to the General Assembly for addressing the problem in a reasonable, holistic, and effective way.

Federal

HUD Seeks Ideas for ConPlan Improvements

HUD’s Office of Community Planning and Development (CPD) is asking for ideas regarding its recently announced Consolidated Plan (ConPlan) enhancement effort. This endeavor is intended to support jurisdictions’ planning for the use of CPD formula grant funds (CDBG, HOME, ESG, and HOPWA). The improvements include providing expanded planning data, easy to use mapping tools, and an electronic template integrated with IDIS (CPD’s management information system) to facilitate creation of ConPlans and performance reports.

To gather feedback, HUD created an interactive, online forum at www.hud.gov/ideasinaction. Although the forum is targeted to jurisdictions, CPD welcomes ideas from all interested stakeholders.

This particular forum will only be active until May 31. CPD will host additional forums that build on input received from the initial forum.

The prototype mapping system is at http://egis.hud.gov/cpdmaps

Nonprofit Advocacy Resources

Are you part of a nonprofit organization and would like to learn about the rules for advocacy by nonprofits?  Information about IRS rules and guidelines, what is permissible, and available training and technical assistance resources is provided by the Alliance for Justice at www.afj.org/for-nonprofits-foundations/ and by Independent Sector at www.independentsector.org/advocacy.

If you have questions about these or other legislative issues, contact Carley Ruff at cruff@nchousing.org

 

Announcements

Click on the links for more information on the events listed below.

   

Jobs

Click on the links for more information on the jobs listed below.

  

Member Spotlight

High-performance construction can often seem like a daunting mission for builders and developers in the affordable housing market. To be successful, these organizations need a way to build top quality houses without forfeiting affordability. Navigating this process means change, and many organizations willing to make the commitment want someone to guide them along the way. Advanced Energy’s SystemVision program provides the training and technical support that leads to improved health, safety, durability, comfort and energy efficiency of affordable homes.

For 10 years, Advanced Energy has been positively transforming the affordable housing market in North Carolina through its SystemVision program. Today, more than 75 percent of single-family affordable housing built in the state is SystemVision certified. These homes are proven to be at least 15 percent more energy-efficient than code-built homes and have diverted more than $3.4 million in energy costs from affordable housing homeowners in North Carolina.

The only guaranteed affordable housing program in the nation, SystemVision homes come with a heating and cooling and comfort guarantee. The heating and cooling guarantee ensures the cost to heat and cool the home remains affordable at around $35 per month. The comfort guarantee ensures the temperature in the center of each room does not vary by more than three degrees from the thermostat setting, meaning residents enjoy living in the homes they’ve worked so hard to purchase.

SystemVision construction standards are designed to meet the needs of the affordable housing market. There are multiple funding resources available to program participants. For more information about SystemVision and how you can participate, contact David Treleven at DTreleven@AdvancedEnergy.org or 919-857-9000.

Advanced Energy joined the NC Housing Coalition to increase its impact on the state's affordable housing market. By working together with other organizations, we can achieve our mission of providing decent, energy efficient affordable housing to every North Carolina family in need.


If you are interested in becoming a Member Spotlight, please contact John Niffenegger.


Thanks to our New and Renewing Members

Telamon
Mary Priester
Gene Buccelli
Evergreen Construction

To become a member, click here.


News


Click here for older articles.

 

Foreclosure rate dipping in Guilford

News & Record
Donald W. Patterson, Staff Writer
May 2, 2011

The rate of foreclosure filings dipped slightly in Guilford County in the first quarter of 2011, but that’s small consolation to the 1,000 families who started a process that could lead to the loss of their homes.

The statewide rate fell as well, but the N.C. Justice Center, which monitors the problem, says “North Carolina’s foreclosure crisis continues.”

At the current pace, Guilford will record about 4,000 foreclosure starts this year, the second highest total ever, and only slightly below the 2010 high of 4,018.

Housing experts differ on what to make of the numbers, but most agree that the foreclosure problem appears to have stabilized, at least for the time being.

“The number of folks in crisis is declining, but that doesn’t mean we are out of the woods yet,” said Chris Estes, executive director of the N.C. Housing Coalition in Raleigh. “I think there is at least another year where things are going to be tough.”

Even so, experts expect to foresee improvement in the state’s housing market this year. One index shows sales in the Piedmont jumped by 12 percent in March while the average price of houses sold edged up 2 percent.

“For the next year, you will see this kind of churning,” Estes said. “It won’t be like everybody is buying homes and there will be no more foreclosures.”

For the first quarter of the year in the Piedmont, foreclosure filings have fallen in every county except Stokes and Forsyth, where the rate increased 13 percent compared to the first quarter of 2010.

In Guilford, the rate dropped 3 percent in the first three months of the year compared to 9 percent statewide.

“Thankfully, the overall rate is dropping across North Carolina this year,” said Jeff Shaw, communications director for the N.C. Justice Center in Raleigh. “Most counties are seeing their rates decease.”

Even so, the state remains on a pace for 63,000 foreclosure filings this year, just 5,000 below the record number set in 2010.

Most attribute the decline so far to a combination of factors, including a slowly improving economy and programs that help families stay in their homes.

These include efforts such as the N.C. Foreclosure Prevention Fund, which helps struggling homeowners make mortgage payments due to job loss or temporary financial hardship.

But the problem, Estes said, “is that they are helping hundreds when we are faced with thousands.”

Housing experts say lowering foreclosure numbers — like ending high unemployment — won’t happen quickly.

They say the state’s high jobless rate — 9.7 percent in March — prevents many homeowners from making mortgage payments on properties that continue to lose value.

According to the most recent figures available, nearly 6 percent of borrowers in the state are seriously delinquent on their house payments and more than 170,000, or 11 percent, are underwater, meaning they owe more on their homes than they are worth.

“We are really waiting for a jobs recovery,” said Janneke Ratcliffe, executive director of the UNC Center for Community Capital, which monitors the foreclosure issue. “That is what is going to turn things around.”

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Raleigh residents say homes were bulldozed without warning

WRAL.com
Adam Owens
May 2, 2011

Residents of a Raleigh mobile home community that was heavily damaged by a tornado on April 16 are accusing the company that owns Stony Brook North of bulldozing homes without residents' knowledge.

The company, Colorado-based American Residential Communities, maintains that the damaged homes were a safety hazard and needed to be removed, while residents say they weren't given ample warning to collect their belongings before the homes were demolished.

ARC also said that residents were offered help by emergency workers and were given five days to collect their belongings.

At a meeting in a nearby park Monday, residents, most of whom only speak Spanish, threatened to hire attorneys to make sure the bulldozing stops. The Hope Community Church in Raleigh is trying to help them.

"They have been through traumatic stuff. They are dealing with issues and not thinking clearly," said Byron McMillan, a volunteer from the church.

McMillan said two of the 11 families his church adopted had their homes demolished. ARC admits that four homes at Stony Brook North were bulldozed.

In a statement, an ARC spokesperson said that "the decision was made that these homes needed to be removed to protect the general safety and welfare of the community residents and workers."

But McMillan said that residents should have been notified.

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Asheville's City-agency collaboration wins national HUD award

May 3, 2011

The City of Asheville Homeless Coalition, Homeward Bound and the Asheville Regional Housing Consortium were honored by the US Department of Housing and Urban Development on May 2, 2011 with a HOME program 20th Anniversary “Door Knocker Award”.

Homeward Bound’s Tenant Based Rental Assistance Program, “Pathways to Permanent Housing” was chosen as one of fourteen programs nationally to receive the award.  HUD Assistant Secretary Mercedes Mãrquez said, in announcing the award, “The Pathways to Permanent Housing program demonstrates how HOME funds can be used successfully to assist communities reaching underserved populations.”

“I am proud of the City of Asheville and Homeward Bound; this is a well-deserved award.  Homeward Bound has shown an incredible dedication to implementing the 10-Year Plan to End Homelessness and has made a real impact on the lives of people in our community,” said Mayor Terry Bellamy. 

Homeward Bound’s collaborative and innovative programs incorporate important community resources, services, and funds to offer people who are experiencing chronic homelessness an opportunity to move off the streets and into housing.  HOME funds are used to make rent payments for persons who had formerly experienced chronic homelessness. Homeward Bound and the Consortium have learned that “housing first” strengthens the ability of these persons to stabilize their lives, leading to personal gains and the reduction in need of many other community services.

“Homelessness is solvable, and housing is the answer; our 10-Year Plan says that’s true, Opening Doors: Federal Strategic Plan to Prevent and End Homelessness says that’s true, and we’ve found through experience that that’s true,” said Brian Alexander, Executive Director of Homeward Bound.  “Both we and the City of Asheville believe that effective stewardship of public resources means investing in solutions to homelessness, and that’s what we’ve done together through Pathways to Permanent Housing.  Being recognized for that by HUD is an honor for each of us and is something our community should be proud of and should see as encouragement to continue investing in those solutions.”

This prestigious award is just one of fourteen given nationally and recognizes the dedicated partnership between the City of Asheville, the Asheville Regional Housing Consortium and community agencies like Homeward Bound. Asheville and Consortium have participated in the federal HOME program since its inception in 1991.  HOME funds are allocated annually by HUD specifically to help communities create and retain affordable housing. It is the largest federal block grant program dedicated to producing affordable housing at the sate and local level.  The Asheville Regional Housing Consortium, comprised of Buncombe, Henderson, Madison and Transylvania Counties, and managed by the City of Asheville Community Development Division has been recognized by HUD as a model for other multi-county HOME consortiums.

Amy Sawyer, the City’s Homeless Initiative Coordinator, and Brian Alexander, attended HUD’s 20th Anniversary Conference to accept the award from Assistant Secretary Mercedes Mãrquez on May 2, 2011. The main focus of the conference was on helping HUD partners strengthen their affordable housing programs.  During the conference, Ms. Sawyer and Mr. Alexander gave a presentation on best practices for tenant based rental assistance. 

For more information on the City of Asheville’s disbursement of Tenant-Based Rental Assistance or the 10-Year Plan to End Homelessness, contact Amy Sawyer, Homeless Initiative Coordinator, at (828) 552.9198 or asawyer@ashevillenc.gov.  To learn more about Homeward Bound’s programming, contact Emily Ball at (828) 258.1695 x258 or emily@hbofa.org, or visit www.hbofa.org

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Did Chapel Hill's policy cause project's troubles?

The News & Observer
- Staff Writer
May 8, 2011

CHAPEL HILL -- Did the town's affordable housing mandate contribute to the Greenbridge developers' financial collapse?

Partner Tim Toben says the project's 15 affordable units found buyers within months of being on the market and helped meet Bank of America's requirement that half of the 97 units be under contract in order for the developers to obtain the loan. The bank looked at the number of units sold, not the value of the units, he said.

The affordable units "certainly played a role" in securing the financing for the project, Toben said. "And it was a positive role at the time."

Greenbridge now faces foreclosure and has a sale date of June 27 unless Bank of America and the developers can negotiate an alternate buyer.

When Bank of America gave developers their $43.5 million loan for the project in July 2008, Greenbridge had contracts on 52 units - 37 closed and 15 pending. After the building opened last summer, eight pending contract holders backed out because they no longer qualified for their loans or had changed their minds, Toben said.

Of the 37 units that closed, 15 were the affordable units.

Fifteen contracts are still pending, but those prospective buyers are unable to close because of the liens on the project. The longer they are pending, the less likely they'll close, Toben said.

Before the bank started foreclosure, it agreed to sell the next 10 units at a 15 percent discount. Toben said he's not sure whether that discount will stand as the property gets new owners.

The demand curve

Banks typically look at the value of the pre-sales for a condominium project, not the number of units, said Tony Plath, an associate professor of finance at UNC Charlotte.

"A good lender is going to take that into question," he said. "If you're going to subsidize something, the demand for it is going to be higher as a consequence. ... That doesn't tell you whether the market is receptive to the project.

"The demand curve associated with subsidized housing is going to be completely different than the demand curve associated with market-driven housing."

Bank of America declined to comment.

Homeowners in the affordable units have not been affected yet by Greenbridge's financial problems, said Robert Dowling, executive director of Community Home Trust, which sells affordable housing for the town.

The bank has been paying the homeowners association fees for unsold units that normally would be paid by the rest of the market-rate owners, he said.

If units remain vacant and the bank stops contributing, however, eventually it could hurt affordable-unit homeowners, who pay about $120 to $150 per month in homeowners association fees, which are based on the price of their units, Dowling said.

Owners of market-priced condos also subsidize the affordable units by contributing 0.6 percent of the value of their units to the Home Trusts Transfer Fee Fund. The fund keeps the affordable units affordable by paying for condo repairs and kicking in extra money if homeowner fees go up. The fund has about $75,000 now, but if no additional payments are made by market-rate homeowners, the fund could become strained.

"I think there's a lot of uncertainty right now," Dowling said. "Hopefully there's some resolution."

'Interesting question'

Chapel Hill requires developers to price 15 percent of new residential units as affordable housing for households that make less than 80 percent of the area median income.

If large projects like Greenbridge are using the town's affordable housing mandate to help obtain funding, that would be an "unintended consequence," Town Manager Roger Stancil said. "It's an interesting question," he said.

Some community members have asked whether the mandate is meeting the town's goals, which included attracting a diverse group of people, including families, to the new projects in town.

Last month, the town held about 60 information sessions to develop a mission statement and get feedback on demand for housing, who is buying it, and how the policy can best serve the community.

The majority of the condominium affordable housing is being bought by single people, not families, Dowling said. Most units like the ones in Greenbridge are too small for families, he said.

"I think we have enough condos for the time being," Dowling said. "Condominiums are a challenge. They present risks that are difficult for us to manage."

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Overflow shelter may close this month
Salvation Army seeks money to keep 50-bed facility for women, kids open another year.

The Charlotte Observer
Mark Price
May 10, 2011

Charlotte's only emergency shelter for women and children, with a dozen people already sleeping on the floor, could start turning away the needy if it can't find money to keep its overflow facility open after this month.

The Salvation Army's Center of Hope needs $240,000 to keep the 50-bed overflow shelter going one more year, when two other nonprofits are expected to open expanded shelters for homeless women.

A donor has agreed to provide the Salvation Army with a third of the money, if the agency can cobble together the rest from other sources by the end of June. The Salvation Army hopes to raise another third through a public campaign and get the rest from the United Way.

As of now, however, the agency's overflow shelter at Caldwell Memorial Presbyterian Church will run out of money May 31. If it closes, the 50 women staying there would move to the Center of Hope - which would make it too crowded to accept new admissions, said director Deronda Metz.

"If we have no more bed space and already have people sleeping on the floors, there is no other option," Metz said. "That is very dangerous for the women."

The 224-bed center is already 115 people over capacity, and some residents must leave before others can be accepted, Metz said.

Nearly half of the 339 being housed are children, which is indicative of the county's 36 percent jump in homeless families last year. Overall homelessness, including single men, jumped 14 percent last year. The Men's Shelter of Charlotte reported an average of 550 men per night in April, which is about 50 more men per night than it budgeted for the year.

The overflow shelter costs about $20,000 a month to operate. Raising a portion of the money would keep the overflow shelter going a while longer, but wouldn't solve the problem of what to do with the women until the expanded shelters open next year.

Women at the overflow shelter range in age from 19 to 65, including some who have jobs but still can't afford rent.

An example is Yvette, 50, who prefers not to give her full name. She was laid off last spring and evicted shortly after, bringing her to the shelter in June.

The Center of Hope helped her find a $9-an-hour job, and she's worried that losing a bed at the overflow shelter will undermine her goal for a more stable life.

"I never thought I'd find myself in this kind of situation, but I'm seeing the light at the end of the tunnel," Yvette said. "Every woman in here has a different reason for being homeless, but we all want the same thing: to get out and back on our feet."

The Center of Hope opened the overflow shelter in September after being offered space in a building on the campus of Caldwell Memorial Presbyterian Church on East Fifth Street. Because it serves single women, it's frees up space in the Center of Hope for more families.

So far, 320 different women have stayed at the Caldwell facility, officials said. It was meant to be open only 10 weeks. But consistent need led to multiple extensions and finally a plan to keep the beds active until Charlotte Rescue Mission and United Family Services completed expanded shelter projects next year.

If the overflow shelter closes, the 50 women living there will be allowed to sleep on the floor of the Center of Hope until they find homes. The center's staff is wary of that solution, noting crowding prompts conflict, health problems and more calls for ambulances and police.

The center remains hopeful it can raise the money though a combination of sources. Besides the donor that offered to provide a third if the Salvation Army can raise the remainder, Metz's plan calls for a public-awareness campaign, aimed at collecting another third through donations from individuals and companies. The remaining third she hopes will come from United Way. Metz recently made an appeal to the agency for an additional $75,000 next year, specifically for the overflow shelter.

It's an iffy prospect, given that this year's United Way campaign is running more than $2 million shy of its goal.

It will be June before the Center of Hope knows whether it will get the extra United Way money.

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Leaders hope to form group to aid homeless in Henderson County

Blue Ridge Now Times-News Staff Writer
Jessica Goodman

One hundred seventy-five families — or 253 students — are affected by homelessness in the Henderson County school system, according to Christine Craft, HELP case manager for the schools.

“We really, really need to reach out to the community to get these families housed and finding stability,” she said.

On Thursday, during an Affordable Housing Coalition meeting at Western Carolina Community Action’s offices, Emila Sutton of N.C. Coalition to End Homelessness talked to 30 community members about the possibility of forming a Henderson County regional committee that can apply for HUD funds.

To do this, they would need to form a Balance of State Continuum of Care. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development defines a Continuum of Care “as a community plan to organize and deliver housing and services to meet the specific needs of people who are homeless as they move to stable housing and maximum self-sufficiency.”

The HUD program was created to address the problems of homelessness in a comprehensive manner with other federal agencies. The program focuses on housing stabilization. HUD funds can be used for permanent supportive housing, transitional housing and supportive services.

Children do better in life when they have stable housing, Sutton said.

HUD uses a formula to determine how much money each county needs to serve its homeless population, called the Pro Rata Need, according to Sutton. Henderson County’s Pro Rata is $86,176. To access these funds, a county must be part of a regional committee and Henderson County’s committee is not active.

The coalition helps organize the regional committees and applications for funding from HUD for North Carolina. The application process is competitive, and HUD looks at communities as a whole to determine who to fund and how much to give.

“It’s very important we’re all on the same page; we’re all working together,” Sutton said.

The next step for the potential committee is to start meeting as a group, and the Affordable Housing Coalition will meet later this month to discuss moving forward with creating the regional committee. The community, with all stakeholders involved, will need to meet certain requirements such as participating with the Homeless Management Information System and electing leadership and representation to a state steering committee.

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Veterans Helping Veterans Heal transitional housing

NC Housing Foundation
Diane Evans, Director of Development
May 9, 2011

The North Carolina Housing  Foundation (NCHF) announces that the Veterans Helping Veterans Heal (VHVH) project located in northeast Winston-Salem, that is slated to begin construction later this spring, has been awarded a $200,000 grant from the Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust (KBR) Poor and Needy Division.  According to Diane Evans, Development Director at the Housing Foundation, the grant will help cover the cost of operations at the new 30-bed transitional housing project for homeless veterans.  The KBR grant will be spread over a twenty-four month period and will be combined with a per-diem reimbursement from the Veterans Administration.  Additionally, KBR is providing $20,000 to NCHF for indirect expenses associated with operating the facility and will pay a portion of the cost of dues for a membership in the North Carolina Center for Nonprofits over a three-year period. 

The Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust’s mission is to improve the quality of life and health for the financially needy of North Carolina.  It is particularly interested in projects that help low-wealth individuals increase their self-reliance and it does this through supporting projects in Forsyth County that focus on education, job training, and supportive housing. 

The North Carolina Housing Foundation (NCHF) is a nonprofit developer of safe, affordable housing with services for low- and moderate-income persons in North Carolina.  Its development portfolio currently has 1,496 units of housing in projects for the elderly and/or disabled, low-income housing tax credit projects, and permanent supportive housing located in Forsyth County and across the state, with 175 more units in development, including the VHVH transitional housing project, that are scheduled to open within the next year.

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Leading mortgage firms may be forced to reduce loan balances for distressed homeowners

The Huffington Post
Shahien Nasiripour
May 10, 2011

The nation's five largest mortgage firms may be forced to reduce loan balances for distressed homeowners as part of an agreement with state attorneys general and the Obama administration to settle claims of faulty mortgage practices, a top state official involved in the negotiations said Tuesday.

The proposal is part of a set of remedies banks would have to agree to in order to settle the state and federal probes launched last autumn, which found that the largest mortgage firms illegally seized the homes of at least dozens of borrowers and engaged in shoddy practices that short-changed troubled borrowers.

Mortgage principal reductions would comprise part of a larger fine levied on Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase, Citigroup, Wells Fargo and Ally Financial. Penalties could reach $30 billion, officials said.

The forced reduction of mortgage principal as a penalty against flawed past practices has proven contentious. Some Republican attorneys general have objected, as have some Republican members of Congress.

On Tuesday, however, a state official told The Huffington Post on condition of anonymity that the option "very much remains on the table."

While officials have not determined how much would be exacted from the banks -- and specific dollar amounts to settle the probes have not yet been discussed between the state and federal governments and the banks -- the proposal to compel financial firms to cut loan balances is part of one of two documents circulated Tuesday at a hotel in northern Virginia, where bankers, state officials and policy makers from the Obama administration began a three-day meeting.

The targeted banks have argued vociferously, both in private discussions and in public, that they opposed cutting distressed homeowners' principal balances.

During meetings two weeks ago, representatives from such banks conducted a presentation which they claimed illustrated that mandating principal reductions would not prevent a significant number of new foreclosures and would be harmful to the general economy.

The banks said "it would trigger a stampede of strategic defaults," an official familiar with one of the two discussions said at the time, referring to instances in which borrowers who can afford to make good on their obligations choose not to. Strategic defaults are much more common in the business world than among homeowners, according to experts who study the issue. Homeowners generally feel a moral obligation to continue making their payments, whereas corporations view the breaking of contracts as pure business decisions.

Government officials questioned the banks' assumptions and fought back against their claims.

The other document circulated Tuesday outlines standards that mortgage firms would have to adhere to for current and future borrowers, like forcing banks to ensure they have the right documentation when they move to repossess homes. The document was revised from an earlier draft first circulated in early March, The Huffington Post reported last week.

The standards are a response to investigations launched last fall after the nation's largest lenders voluntarily halted home seizures when faulty document practices -- like so-called "robo-signing" -- came to light, erupting into a nationwide scandal. Currently, no national standards govern how mortgage firms should treat borrowers who fall behind on their payments or default on their obligations. Congress has taken up the matter, and officials generally agree on how mortgage firms should treat borrowers.

Tuesday's bipartisan meeting included the Washington Attorney General Rob McKenna (R) and Colorado Attorney General John Suthers (R), who called in remotely. Top officials from Florida's and Texas' attorney general offices, both led by Republicans, attended, along with the Democratic attorneys general from Delaware, Iowa, Illinois, North Carolina and Connecticut.

Top officials from the Treasury Department, Department of Justice and the Department of Housing and Urban Development were also present.

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Renters still waiting for recovery
N.C.'s high cost of housing highlighted in report

triangletribune.com
Staff Reports
May 7, 2011

RALEIGH - According to a national report released Thursday, the Housing Wage for N.C. is $13.81. The Housing Wage is the hourly wage a family must earn - working 40 hours a week, 52 weeks a year - to be able to afford the rent and utilities for a safe and modest home in the private housing market. North Carolina's Housing Wage has increased 30 percent since 2000.

The report, Out of Reach 2011, was jointly released by the National Low Income Housing Coalition, a Washington, D.C.-based housing policy organization, and the N.C. Housing Coalition. The report provides the Housing Wage and other housing affordability data for every state, metropolitan area, combined non-metropolitan area and county in the country.

"Data from Out of Reach supports what we know about N.C.: low-income families are still struggling to find decent and affordable housing in communities across the state," said Chris Estes, executive director for the N.C. Housing Coalition.

"While we work to rebuild our economy after the recession, we cannot forget the low- and moderate-income families whose basic housing needs continue to be unmet."

Working at the minimum wage, a family must have two wage earners working full-time - or one full-time earner working 76 hours per week, 52 weeks per year - to afford a modest two-bedroom apartment. The typical renter earns $11.52 per hour, $2.29 less than the hourly wage needed to afford a modest unit.

An estimated 50 percent of renters in N.C. do not earn enough to afford a two-bedroom unit at the Fair Market Rent. This is the highest level in the history of this report, which dates back nearly 20 years.

The data demonstrates the great need for safe, affordable rental housing and the importance of the state's investment in the N.C. Housing Trust Fund. The fund is N.C.'s only state-funded and state-designed resource for financing housing for our most vulnerable citizens through public/private partnerships. It is the state's most effective tool to finance housing for seniors with very low incomes; people with disabilities, including mental health and developmental disabilities; survivors of domestic violence; and the homeless, including homeless veterans. For the first time in 22 years, the legislature is considering a dedicated revenue source for the N.C. Housing Trust Fund that would be a stable source of funding to grow as the economy rebounds.

"N.C. was already in a crisis in regards to affordable rental housing prior to the meltdown of the mortgage finance industry and significant rise in foreclosures. Tens of thousands of people with disabilities and seniors on fixed incomes are waiting for housing assistance, hundreds of thousands are paying more than 50 percent of their income or having to live in substandard housing," Estes said.

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Can’t make the rent
Report: Half of NC renters can’t afford 2-bedroom unit at market price

High Country Press
Anna Oakes
May 12, 2011

Locals don’t need a national study to tell them that the cost of rent in the High Country is high.

But a recent report reveals that families all across the state are struggling to find affordable housing: an estimated 50 percent of renters in North Carolina do not earn enough to afford a two-bedroom unit at the Fair Market Rent (FMR) price, it said.

The report, “Out of Reach 2011,” was jointly released May 2 by the National Low Income Housing Coalition and the North Carolina Housing Coalition. The report provides the Housing Wage and other housing affordability data for every state, metropolitan area, combined non-metropolitan area and county in the country.

The Housing Wage is the hourly wage a family must earn—working 40 hours a week and 52 weeks per year—to afford the rent and utilities for a home in the private housing market. A unit is considered affordable if it and basic utilities (electric, water and heat) cost no more than 30 percent of the renter’s income. According to the report, North Carolina’s Housing Wage is $13.81, a 30 percent increase since 2000.

“Data from ‘Out of Reach’ supports what we know about North Carolina: low-income families are still struggling to find decent and affordable housing in communities across the state,” said Chris Estes, executive director for the North Carolina Housing Coalition, in a press release.

Working at the minimum wage in North Carolina, the report said, a family must have two wage earners working full-time—or one full-time earner working 76 hours per week, 52 weeks per year—to afford a modest two-bedroom apartment. The typical renter in North Carolina earns $11.52 per hour, which is $2.29 less than the hourly wage needed to afford a modest unit, the report stated.

The FMR is an estimated monthly rent cost for a community, including basic utilities (but not telephone, TV or internet services), calculated by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). The average FMR in North Carolina for a two-bedroom apartment is $718. Watauga County’s two-bedroom FMR is higher at $749—higher, also, than the FMR for the Asheville metropolitan area, which is $672.

The two-bedroom FMR in Avery County is $659; in Ashe County, it’s $596.

The Northwestern Regional Housing Authority is the administrator of HUD’s Section 8 vouchers in seven northwestern North Carolina counties, including Avery and Watauga. Section 8, or the Housing Choice Voucher Program, is a federal housing program that provides housing assistance to low-income renters and homeowners in the form of rental subsidies.

Carl Jenkins, housing counselor for the authority, said that currently 194 families are on the waiting list for Section 8 vouchers in Watauga County; in Avery County, 76 families are on the waiting list.

The housing authority also acts as a sponsor of the White Laurel community, a 42-unit affordable housing complex located near the Hunger Coalition and the Hospitality House, which also has a long waiting list.

The Hospitality House is an administrator for the Homelessness Prevention and Rapid Re-Housing Program, which works to place those in danger of becoming homeless in affordable housing, but that program is full and isn’t accepting new applicants currently, Hospitality House Executive Director Lynne Mason said. W.A.M.Y. is the administrator for this program in Avery County.

Jenkins said the amount of funding for these programs hasn’t kept up with the increase in need, which he attributes to not only the economy but also population increases.

Mason, a Boone Town Council member, also serves as chair of the town’s Affordable Housing Committee. She said the town has adopted the definition of affordable housing—meaning rent plus basic utilities should constitute no more than 30 percent of a renter’s monthly income—in its codes.

“We are well aware that there are many that spend far in excess of that in this area,” Mason said.

A new report from the Harvard Joint Center for Housing Studies found that about 25 percent of renters nationwide spend more than half their income on rent and utilities.

Mason said the committee focuses not only on low-income housing but also on workforce housing—including housing stock for those who work at ASU, in health care and other professional jobs in the area. She said there’s not a single solution to addressing housing needs, but the committee is examining what incentives the town can provide to developers to build lower-cost housing and is also working with the Watauga Community Housing Trust, a nonprofit formed by the county, to provide affordable housing through a land trust.

Mason said it’s important for a community to provide a variety of housing and that she knows of many who are employed full time who cannot afford to live in Watauga County.

“We’re talking about people who were born and reared here not being able to afford to live here,” she added. “I think it’s important that we have housing for all population groups.”

Joe Furman, Watauga County planning director and a Watauga Community Housing Trust board member, said the county Planning Board has a renewed interest in the issue of workforce housing and is looking at potential changes to the county’s subdivision ordinance that could affect affordability. The trust has worked with ASU classes to develop design alternatives for mixed-population affordable housing units, which potentially could be located at county-owned land near Brookshire Park.

“To be able to purchase or rent here for families, it’s tough,” Furman said.

For more information about the “Out of Reach” report or the efforts of the North Carolina Housing Coalition, click to www.nchousing.org.

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Conference offers hope for those facing foreclosure

WRAL.com
Beau Minnick
May 12, 2011

A national non-profit organization drew crowds Thursday to the Raleigh Convention Center where homeowners in a bind could get advice and assistance in mortgage modification.

The Neighborhood Assistance Corporation of America helps struggling homeowners restructure their loans with banks. The Save The Dream event drew homeowners from as far away as Maryland and South Carolina.

"I'm here today hopefully trying to get some reprieve on my mortgage," Deandre Burgos said. 

NACA founder Bruce Marks said counselors certified by the Department of Housing and Urban Development bring homeowners face-to-face with loan servicers and are often able to work out restructured payments on the spot. 

"I have the best job in the country. People come up to me and they say, 'You saved my house. you saved my family,'" he said.

NACA helps about four out of five people to adjust their payments and get on the road back to security, Marks said.

Some banks pay a fee to work with NACA. The service to homeowners is free.

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Mortgage fraud list may grow to 70 defendants
Wax House probe, which now involves 37, could expand, prosecutor tells federal judge.

The Charlotte Observer
Lisa Hammersly
May 13, 2011

Operation Wax House, the Charlotte area's wide-ranging federal mortgage fraud investigation, may eventually net up to 70 people, from promoters, mortgage brokers and closing attorneys to bit players such as notary publics and straw buyers.

Six more people were sentenced this week in the 4-year-old investigation. Wax House has 37 defendants so far. Assistant U.S. Attorney Kurt Meyers told a federal judge on Thursday that he expects "another 30 defendants as this case goes on... It will take substantial time."

Thursday was the first time federal investigators have talked about the full sweep of the mortgage fraud probe that has centered on seven high-priced south Charlotte and Union County neighborhoods. It involved about 80 homes and $100 million in loans.

U.S. District Judge Frank Whitney reminded defendants this week that they had played small parts in the nation's mortgage crisis. Many Wax House homes, selling in the $1 million range, foreclosed after false or "straw" buyers didn't make payments on their loans. They were among skyrocketing foreclosures nationwide that cost lenders and government agencies billions in losses. At the same time, property values spiraled downward, particularly in neighborhoods with many foreclosures.

"You were one drop in the ocean of the financial recession this country is in," the judge said.

Sentenced this week were two builders, a mortgage broker, one facilitator and one promoter of the fraud schemes and a notary public. Meyers asked the judge to reduce sentences between 25 percent and 40 percent because of their cooperation with prosecutors. Whitney agreed.

One of the longest Wax House sentences so far has been three years in federal prison, handed down to Charlotte lawyer Demetrius Rainer last week. Courthouse observers say they believe several central players in the Wax House operation have not yet been charged. Prosecutors wouldn't comment.

The frauds involved five groups or "cells." Participants generally agreed to buy homes at their true price from builders and then found straw buyers to seek loans to buy the homes at much higher prices. The fraudsters lied to get mortgages at the inflated prices, including filing false statements to lenders.

Prices were generally inflated $200,000 to $500,000 higher than the houses' real values. At closing, fraud participants split that difference.

One defendant after another told the court this week how their need or desire for money, and sometimes ignorance, led to their crimes.

Joseph Woods "ran into the wrong person at the wrong time in his life," his defense attorney told the court Thursday.

Woods "was in the mortgage industry business. That business had dried up. He ran through his own savings. He began raiding his children's accounts. He succumbed to temptation," said lawyer John Cacheris. Woods, who had pleaded guilty to three counts related to mortgage fraud, was sentenced to 24 months in federal prison.

Aaron Simmons, a former concert promoter, pleaded guilty to two counts. He acted as the broker between a builder and a buyer, his attorney said. He has turned his life around since and owns a dump truck business where "every dollar made is made one day at a time with hard work," said attorney Melissa Owen. Simmons was sentenced to 22 months imprisonment.

Gary Wood, a builder and real estate agent, apologized to the court "for letting my lifestyle get out of control." That ignited a string of bad business decisions, Wood said. Prosecutors said Wood allowed prices to be inflated on homes he had built. He was sentenced to 21 months in federal prison for one count of mortgage fraud conspiracy.

Denis Hickey, a facilitator for the scheme, was sentenced Monday to 15 months in prison after pleading guilty to two counts.

Jennifer Jackson, a nurse by training and mother of three, was a builder who pleaded guilty to one count. The mortgage fraud scheme "was not obvious to her at the beginning," said her attorney Pete Anderson. "But there were red flags she should have seen." Jackson was sentenced to 14 months probation and home detention.

Anthony Willis, a notary public, approved signatures on home-buying documents, indicating he saw the people sign them. Actually, Willis stamped his approval after the signatures were written. He didn't see the signers and some turned out to be forged, prosecutors said. Willis received more than $5,000 during a period that he was out of work and told the court he considered that money a blessing then. "I now understand what I did was wrong. But at the time, I thought I was doing a favor for a friend," he said. Willis was sentenced to five months probation and home detention.

Family and friends described defendants who were in court this week as law-abiding, family-loving, hardworking and unselfish.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Meyers told the court those qualities were more typical of white-collar criminals than most people believe.

"They have a type of schizophrenia," he said. "They are unselfish to family, friends and loved ones, but selfish in their criminal undertakings. They can be at the same time unselfish and greedy."

Operation Wax House has involved the U.S. Attorney's office, the FBI, the Internal Revenue Service and other federal agencies.

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