New York City is moving to demolish hundreds of homes in the neighborhoods hit hardest by Hurricane Sandy, after a grim assessment of the storm-ravaged coast revealed that many structures were so damaged they pose a danger to public safety and other buildings nearby.
About 200 homes will be bulldozed in the coming days, almost all of them one- and two-family houses on Staten Island, in Queens and Brooklyn. That is in addition to 200 houses that are already partially or completely burned down, washed away or otherwise damaged; those sites will also be cleared.
The Buildings Department is still inspecting nearly 500 other damaged structures, some of which could also be razed, according to the commissioner, Robert L. LiMandri.
Mr. LiMandri, in an interview late last week, said the city had not undertaken such a broad reshaping of its neighborhoods in decades.
“We’ve never had this scale before,” Mr. LiMandri said. “This is what New Yorkers have read about in many other places and have never seen, so it is definitely unprecedented. And by the same token, when you walk around in these communities, people are scared and worried, and we’re trying to make every effort to be up front and share with them what they need to do.”
No decisions have been made about rebuilding in the storm-battered areas — a complicated question that would involve not only homeowners, but also insurers and officials in the state, local and federal governments. Some of the houses that are being torn down were built more than a half-century ago as summer bungalows, then winterized and expanded. Current building codes would likely prohibit reconstruction of similar homes.
The Buildings Department expects to have a more precise assessment by early this week of how many buildings must be razed.
And then there is the emotional toll. Many of the homes set to be knocked down are in tight-knit working- and middle-class neighborhoods, where they are often handed down from generation to generation.
A serial bomber has targeted a home in a quiet Glendale neighborhood, federal authorities believe.
An explosion on Wednesday morning was the third to rock the house in 15 months.
What investigators don’t know is why.
By all accounts, the homeowners are unlikely targets for such a serious act of violence.
One of the homeowners works for the Deer Valley Unified School District, according to authorities. Neighbors said the man is a member of the homeowners’ association and his car has veteran license plates. He declined to be interviewed.
“Quite frankly, we’re puzzled,” said Tom Mangan, a spokesman for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. “We’re looking for answers, but we just have more questions.”
The ATF is investigating the explosion along with the Glendale Police Department.
“For all the fearmongering we hear out of our politicians on the right about how heaven forbid we’re going to turn into Greece, the one country you never hear them talk about any more is Iceland. The reason they don’t is, as Cenk Uygur explained on his show this Tuesday, they took a different path than the United States after their financial crisis and nationalized the banks, threw some the people responsible for the crash in jail and bailed out the homeowners instead of worrying about only bailing out the banks. And now they’re coming back and their economy is growing again…”.*
The recent overwhelming passage of the JOBS Act proves that when the business community unites behind legislation, even a bitterly divided Congress can act.
So next up on the business agenda should be an issue that’s less obviously a business concern but arguably more beneficial to the economy — pushing to unleash the spending power of millions of US households by clearing away barriers to refinancing for homeowners who are current on their mortgage payments.
That’s the single biggest step Washington can take to kick-start anemic consumer spending and boost businesses’ bottom lines. With mortgage rates finally creeping up from historic lows, the window of opportunity for such a sensible economic policy may be closing.
Despite a recent uptick in consumer spending, the disposable income of households dropped for the first two months of 2012. Without more customers, clothing stores, restaurants, and retailers of all types will have little incentive to expand and hire.
A broad-based refinancing program could allow as many as 25 million households to refinance from interest rates of over 5.5 percent to today’s rates of around 4 percent, according to estimates by Glenn Hubbard, dean of the Columbia Business School and George W. Bush’s former chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers. That would free up a collective $70 billion per year for stronger consumer spending, according to Hubbard and his colleagues.
Making it possible for even a portion of this market to refinance would be a meaningful economic boost. Indeed, the potential annual savings of $2,800 per household is far larger than any middle-class tax cut being debated in Washington.
Hubbard and fellow Columbia professor Chris Mayer first floated a universal refinancing proposal in October 2008. Even conservative economists such as Martin Feldstein have called multiple times for a sensible mortgage-refinancing program as a remedy for the overall economy.
Yet such well-grounded ideas continue to be dismissed as “bailouts” for irresponsible homeowners. The business community should help point out that they are neither: The vast majority of eligible homeowners are ones who invested significant money in their house.
To be sure, there’s no silver policy bullet when it comes to boosting the economy, but clearing away the often technical barriers that prevent the average family from locking in today’s low home mortgage rates can be done more aggressively.
Mr. McNeil was still on the phone and recognized Epp’s voice and told his son to go inside and wait while he called 911 to report the incident. McNeil arrived home and Epp went to his truck to get something he concealed in his pants and came at him prompting McNeil to grab a gun and fire it at the ground insisting that Epp stop his advance. Epp continued approaching McNeil “really fast” while reaching for his knife and a shot in the head stopped Epp.
A neighbor corroborated Mr. McNeal’s story about his deadly encounter with Epp and police initially determined the shooting was a case of self-defense and did not charge him. A year later the district attorney decided to prosecute Mr. McNeil after a rash of letters and emails demanded the prosecutor investigate and charge McNeil with murder. Most of the letters were written anonymously and one was from Epp’s widow.
It was not Epp’s first case of threatening homeowners. In 2004 a white couple, David Samson and Libby Jones testified they carried a gun around Epp as a precaution because of his threatening behavior.
Government officials on Monday asked a federal judge to approve a landmark settlement with some of the nation’s largest banks over flawed and fraudulent foreclosure practices, more than a month after they announced the $26 billion deal with fanfare at the Justice Department.
The 99-page complaint filed in a D.C. federal court details the “pattern of unfair and deceptive practices” perpetrated by banks in the wake of the housing bust. Among them: filing false and misleading court affidavits, charging excessive and improper fees to borrowers, keeping abysmal records, frequently losing paperwork, breaking promises to homeowners trying to modify their loans, employing staffers with little or no training and improperly foreclosing on active-duty military members.
Officials filed separate and lengthy settlement terms with the five banks involved — Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase, Wells Fargo, Ally Financial and Citigroup — that document the penalties each must pay, how that money will be distributed, how new mortgage servicing standards will be enforced and the extent of the legal releases the firms will receive as part of the deal.
Though the dollar amounts differ, the agreements with each bank are largely the same. One exception is a side deal in which Bank of America agreed to reduce loan balances for as many as 200,000 borrowers who owe more than their homes are worth. The average amount of those so-called principal reductions is expected to be more than $100,000, and it will reduce the amount of penalties the firm owes by about $850 million.
Monday’s filing came after nearly 17 months of negotiations between state and federal officials and the nation’s largest banks. Those talks began in late 2010 after widespread outrage over news that banks were using forged and shoddy paperwork to churn through massive numbers of foreclosures, a practice that became known as “robo-signing.” Forty-nine states ultimately signed onto the deal; Oklahoma crafted a separate settlement.
President Obama has begun embracing housing policies that administration officials earlier thought unwise or unworkable as he embarks on his most aggressive push to address the nation’s foreclosure crisis and depressed real estate market since the first months of his tenure.
Obama has unveiled more than half a dozen plans in recent months to help millions more Americans refinance their mortgages at low rates, to reduce the debts owed by struggling homeowners and to expand existing programs to broaden the pool of borrowers eligible for government aid. The latest initiatives, announced this week, seek to help members of the military and Americans who have government-insured mortgages.
The administration had previously rejected some of these efforts on the grounds that they were wrong on the merits, risky for taxpayers or could not be done. For instance, administration officials in the past had said they didn’t want to bail out speculators or people who had taken on far too much debt. Now, under certain circumstances, the administration is willing to do both.
What’s more, in recent months Obama has used his bully pulpit to discuss housing far more than earlier in his term. After rarely mentioning the nation’s housing problems for several years, the president is directly confronting the issue, which he has called the “most stubborn” of his presidency.
The new actions come after waves of criticism from Democratic groups, community activists, lawmakers and economists, who have argued that the administration was far too slow to deal with the worst housing crisis since the Great Depression.
The $26 billion settlement that 49 attorneys general wrested from the big banks today is a pittance compared to the damage done—but they were forced to act by inaction in Washington.
Go ahead and hate the deal the federal government and 49 of the country’s 50 attorneys general just finalized with five of the country’s largest banks over foreclosure fraud. There’s plenty to dislike about the settlement, starting with the price tag: $26 billion. That’s a slap on the wrist given the reckless, sometimes criminal behavior of the banks and a pittance compared to the trillions of dollars homeowners collectively lost during the subprime debacle. Wade into the fine print and the deal seems even more disappointing. One settlement site says that it can take up to three years for homeowners to know if they’re even eligible for a cash payment. Victims losing their home in a foreclosure can expect a cash payment of between $1,500 and $2,000—enough to maybe cover the costs of a rented truck and storage costs once they got the boot.
Be mad, but make sure to be angry at the right people. Bank regulators in Washington, and not the country’s attorneys general, should have been cracking down on banks that were routinely evicting people despite incomplete documentation. It’s the U.S. Justice Department and other federal agencies that should have gone after the banks when they were caught fabricating legal papers and routinely “robo-signing” thousands of affidavits at a sitting. The Obama administration also might have added teeth to HAMP (Home Affordable Modification Program) rather than relying solely on incentives, which explains why HAMP has helped only a small fraction of the 3 million to 4 million homeowners it was created to help.
For some time now, many economists have been saying that the nation’s depressed housing market is the Achilles’ heel of the recovery. And many struggling homeowners have been holding out hope for government relief.
President Obama//// seems to be listening. In his weekly address Saturday, Obama called the housing crisis the “single biggest drag” on the economy and said he would follow through on his state of the union pledge to help more people reeling from the housing collapse (see video below).
The president’s plan, details of which were released earlier this week, would expand on a government program to allow more homeowners to refinance their mortgages. The new plan would focus on people who are current on their monthly payments and holding on to underwater mortgages owned by banks or investors.
Obama’s refinancing program launched in 2009 targeted borrowers with mortgages owned or backed by government agencies Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, but it has helped a disappointingly small number of homeowners, leaving still millions of borrowers owing more on their loans than their properties are worth. Refinancing would help them take advantage of today’s ultra-low interest rates, thereby freeing up cash for spending or allowing them to pay down the principal faster and build equity. The administration has made tweaks to that existing program and is now hoping to extend the refinancing plan to an additional 3.5 million homeowners.
Obama’s new plan is estimated to cost $5 billion to $10 billion, but it faces plenty of opposition in Congress and from the financial industry as the president proposes to pay for it by levying a fee on large banks.
In his address Saturday, the president couched his new proposal as part of an effort to shore up the middle class. And while he said he wasn’t giving handouts to irresponsible borrowers or those who bought multiple properties, Obama left no doubt where his sympathies lie.
“Lenders sold loans to families who couldn’t afford them,” he said. “Banks packaged those mortgages up and traded them for phony profits. It drove up prices and created an unsustainable bubble that burst - and left millions of families who did everything right in a world of hurt.”
He called it a “small fee” on the largest banks and said it wouldn’t “add a dime to the deficit.”
A 35% collapse in the futures price the past year has been a boon to homeowners who use natural gas for heat and appliances and to manufacturers who power their factories and make chemicals and materials with it.
The country is flush with natural gas as a result of new and controversial drilling techniques that have enabled energy companies to tap vast supplies that were out of reach not so long ago. The country’s natural gas surplus has been growing even as the country burns record amounts.
This winter’s warm weather slowed the growth in demand, however, and created a glut. In the Northeast, December was the fourth warmest in the last 117 years. Winter supplies are 17% above their five-year average.