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Wednesday, September 26, 2007

A Few Housing Updates for September

On the multifamily/rental front, a City Limits article this week exposed how Public Money Helps Fund an Expensive Housing Flip. A report by Tenants and Neighbors and UHAB showed that both the city employees’ retirement account and the New York State and Local Employees’ Retirement System are investing tens of millions in real estate funds that provide capital to the Putnam Holding Company to purchase five expiring Mitchell-Lama properties for almost $1 billion this past May.

With a purchase price that high, there's little doubt rents in these properties will rise dramatically in the coming years. One Assembly Democrat criticized "the investment of retirement funds for city and state employees in 'private equity groups that purchase former Mitchell-Lama developments and make them unaffordable to those same workers.'"

On the homeownership side, Andrew Beveridge in the Gotham Gazette documents the housing bust in New York City, and low income communities of color like the west Bronx will get the hardest. In New York City in 2006, a quarter of Hispanic/Latino homeowning households paid an astounding 81% of their incomes on homeownership costs (mortgage, taxes, utilities). Half of African American homeowners in the City paid more than 44% of their income on homeownership costs.

"Those most at risk of losing their homes because of high housing costs are more than proportionally minority, less educated, either very young or very old, and most especially with much lower incomes than those living in affordable situations. The median income of those paying less than 30 percent of their income on housing is $120,900. For those paying between 30 and 50 percent of their income, though, the median is $74,390, and for those paying over 50 percent the median income is $39,900."

In other words, the less money you make, the more of it goes towards housing. As a result, neighborhoods like the west Bronx will have a higher proportion of homeowners paying a big chunk of their paychecks towards their mortgages, taxes, insurance, fuel, water & sewer, and other costs paid by homeowners.

Finally, the New York Law Journal last month reported on lawsuits by eight black first-time homebuyers in Brooklyn against the real estate company United Homes. The lawsuits all claim that United Homes "oversaw a conspiracy to defraud minorities" looking to become homeowners.
"The plaintiffs' allegations share numerous common elements. After responding to ads on the subway or local newspapers promising 'We Make Dreams Come True,' the plaintiffs were rushed through a streamlined process in which the various defendants conspired to sell them overpriced, defective houses at unfair mortgage rates based on a succession of misrepresentations, according to the complaints."

According to Eastern District of New York Chief Judge Raymond J. Dearie, the plaintiffs claim that United Homes was behind a "fraudulent property-flipping scheme," and that they "bought damaged properties at foreclosure auctions or estate sales[,] performed some cosmetic repairs and, shortly thereafter, sold the properties, often at double the purchase price." The lawsuit targets both the company and their affiliated lawyers, appraisers, and lenders who participated in these schemes. A major accusation in the lawsuit is that these practices were targeted racially.

While it's not surprising that these types of practices were going on in Brooklyn in recent years (and most definitely in the Bronx as well), it is surprising that the allegations have stood up in court thus far. A recent motion to dismiss by the defendents was thrown out by the judge, and one of the plaintiff's attorney's reacted by stating,
"The decision is probably the first time a New York federal court has come to grips with this issue -- the intersection of predatory lending and race discrimination -- and Judge Dearie has made a clear statement that will have strong precedential value in this area."


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