29 December 2009

Dallas-Fort Worth Foreclosures Jumped In 2009

The Dallas News

Commercial property foreclosure filings in the Dallas-Fort Worth area jumped by more than a quarter in 2009.

But foreclosures of commercial real estate still account for less than 5 percent of total filings in the four-county area.

During 2009, lenders posted 2,431 commercial properties for forced sale, including offices, warehouses, shopping centers and land, according to a report released Monday by Foreclosure Listing Service. That's up from just over 1,900 commercial foreclosure postings in 2008, the Addison-based research firm found.

"In 2009, foreclosure postings of commercial real estate climbed at a slightly steeper pace than residential postings," Foreclosure Listing Service CEO George Roddy said in the report, "although there have been many more postings of homes than of commercial properties."

More than 61,000 D-FW area home foreclosure filings were recorded this year – an all-time high.

Commercial mortgage defaults here are still significantly lower than in the last big real estate market shakeout in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

"It's probably about 20 percent of what it was in the peak year of 1989, when we had more than 7,000 postings," Roddy said. "We are not close to that at this point."

But the numbers in the current cycle are definitely climbing.

"We have begun to see the economy's impact on the commercial sector in 2009," Roddy said. "And I expect postings of commercial properties to remain at this level or even higher throughout 2010."

The biggest rise in commercial foreclosure filings in 2009 was in postings for office buildings, which were up 121 percent, and retail buildings, up 90 percent.

Foreclosure filings for commercial land increased 71 percent compared with 2008.

Dallas and Fort Worth apartments were near the top of the list of commercial building foreclosure postings with more than 400 property filings.

The largest increase in commercial foreclosure filings was in Denton County, where postings more than doubled. Tarrant County saw a 2 percent decline in commercial foreclosure postings.

Not all properties posted for foreclosure auction are actually sold by the lender.

In many cases, the borrower works out new mortgage terms or the transaction is delayed by negotiations or bankruptcy.

28 December 2009

Some Major Real Estate Assets Have Worked Out Of Distress

Houston Chronicle

Houston's commercial real estate market is ranked ninth among 57 U.S. markets in distress, according to Real Capital Analytics.

In its latest report, the New York research firm said this area had 211 properties in default, bankruptcy or foreclosure as of Dec. 1.

The value of the buildings, which spanned all property types, was $4.8 billion.

Las Vegas ranked at the top of the list of markets in distress as a percentage of total property investment volume.

While the number of troubled properties in Houston has been growing, some of the larger assets have worked their way out of distress and have new owners.

Last week, an investment group purchased the 44 units that were put into bankruptcy at the Endeavour condominium tower on Clear Lake.

Last month, the owner of Greenway Plaza gave the keys back to its lender, Barclays Capital. The investment bank formed a joint venture real estate firm to own and operate the project.

And the Mosaic high-rise near the Texas Medical Center recently was acquired out of foreclosure by a group led by Starwood Capital Group.

Real Capital broke down the distress in Houston by property type.

The office sector had the highest amount of capital at risk with $2.4 billion in distress in 19 properties.

The Houston apartments and retail sectors each had more than $1 billion worth of properties on shaky financial ground.

Regionally, Houston had the highest volume of distress among the top Texas markets, but Dallas wasn't far behind with $4.5 billion.

Nationally, the volume of troubled properties totaled $161 billion.

Retail remains the hardest-hit property sector with $37.5 billion in distressed situations, with hotels second at $32 billion.

Small-scale remodeling

Home improvements that pay off don't have to be major investments.

Small-scale exterior home remodeling jobs can be the most profitable when selling a house, according to a survey of real estate agents.

Door and siding replacements, as well as wood outdoor deck additions that cost less than $14,000 were some of the top projects in terms of costs recouped in the 2009 Remodeling Cost vs. Value Report.

A steel entry door replacement returned nearly 130 percent of costs, followed by upscale fiber-cement siding replacements at 84 percent. Wood deck additions returned 81 percent of costs.

The study, produced by Hanley Wood and Realtor Magazine, compares construction costs with resale values for 33 midrange and upscale remodeling projects, including home addition, remodels and replacements in 80 markets.

Attic bedroom additions moved up in terms of profitability in this year's study.

They recouped 83 percent of home remodeling costs compared with 74 percent in 2008, the report says.

The least profitable jobs were home office redos and sunroom additions.
Market Square Park

City boosters hope the renovation of Market Square Park will spur property owners in the northern end of downtown to develop their empty parcels.

“With the renovation of Market Square Park, we will further our goal of helping create a true urban neighborhood in the north end of downtown and encourage property owners in the area to develop their properties, many of which are large tracts of parking lots and Houston apartments,” said Jaime Mize, board chair of the Downtown Houston Redevelopment Authority.

It certainly happened to a few of the lots around Discovery Green, the 12-acre park on the eastern edge of downtown.

A high-end office building and hotel are going up adjacent to the park, and a residential tower was recently completed.

Construction on Market Square Park is expected to begin by year-end, with its completion scheduled for the middle of 2010.

Lauren Griffith Associates, a local landscape architecture firm that was involved in Discovery Green, is designing the park. Ray + Hollington Architects and Tribble & Stephens Constructors are also involved.

A central lawn will anchor the park, which will include a dog run, performance area and a cafe. The Downtown District is in negotiations with Niko Niko's Greek & American Cafe to operate an eatery there.

Older artwork like James Surls' Points of View sculpture will be moved or updated and newer installations will be added.

The park will also include a memorial to honor the victims of 9/11, including Houstonian Lauren Catuzzi Grandcolas.

25 December 2009

$10 Million Boost To Post-Ike Housing


The Mayor of Orange tells KFDM News $10 million in state funding will help rebuild most of the east side of his community that suffered damage in Hurricane Ike.

The Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs announced it's awarding the money to Orange to help restore affordable rental housing.

The money, and millions more that was awarded to Orange, will help rehabilitate the 80 unit Arthur Robinson Homes and build 32 single family rental units across the city.

"Well, we're making great progress," said Mayor Brown Claybar during an interview with KFDM News. "I wouldn't wish this on any community-to go through two hurricanes like we have-but I think we've made some great progress. It's taken a lot of work, and our political delegation has worked very hard for this project."

Hurricane Ike caused an estimated $29 billion damage across Southeast Texas.

(AUSTIN) - From Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs - The Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs (TDHCA) today announced a $10 million award to help restore Orange's stock of affordable rental housing damaged or destroyed by Hurricane Ike. The award is expected to bring greater stability to the lives of low income tenants and help jump start further redevelopment activities in the region.

"TDHCA recognizes that portions of the state continue to experience a shortage of affordable rental housing in the wake of Hurricane Ike, and we stand ready to address this need," said Michael Gerber, TDHCA Executive Director. "Our mission is to bring a higher quality of life to low income Texans, but we also anticipate this award creating numerous construction jobs, adding revenue to local governments, and the potential to revitalize the entire community."

TDHCA announced that it would help finance the demolition and reconstruction of the heavily damaged Arthur Robinson Homes being developed by the Orange Housing Authority. The development consists of the rehabilitation of an existing 80-unit apartment complex, as well as the construction of 32 new single family rental units in scattered sites.

"This funding will provide much needed help to those individuals and communities who continue to rebuild their lives following the costliest disaster in our state's history," said Gov. Rick Perry. "Thanks to the leadership of local officials and the hard work of so many Texans following the 2008 hurricane season, we are rebuilding and renewing our coastal communities and will continue to pursue the all federal funding and assistance available."

In exchange for this assistance, the developers must set aside at least 51 percent of the units for tenants earning no more than 80 percent of the area median family income. For the City and County of Orange, this equals an annual income of $43,450 for a family of four.

Today's award is part of $1.3 billion in federal hurricane disaster recovery funds allocated to the state just over seven months ago by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development in response to hurricanes Ike and Dolly.

Of this amount, approximately $620 million has been made available to TDHCA to administer housing programs related to the state's recovery efforts, with $58.8 million specifically dedicated to repairing or replacing the stock of affordable rental housing and Texas apartments damaged or destroyed by these storms.

Hurricane Ike made landfall near Galveston on September 13, 2008, with a significant storm surge and winds topping out at 110 miles per hour. Damages have been estimated to run as high as $29 billion throughout a 34-county region of Southeast Texas.

24 December 2009

Texas Agency Slow To Spend Weatherization Funds

The Dallas News

AUSTIN – The state received millions of federal dollars from the economic-stimulus package to help poor Texans cut their energy bills, but by the end of last month, just seven homes had been weather-treated under the program.

The state has spent $1.8 million of $163 million available over the past four months, with most of it going to administrative costs, such as the salaries of state workers.

The weatherization program was a key element of the federal effort to revive the economy, billed as a quick way to create jobs, save energy and cut utility bills.

In Texas, the task has been heaped onto a midsized agency that must figure how to hand out millions more in federal funds to local agencies and governments, but do it carefully enough to avoid wasting money.

Some community action agencies that will spend the money criticize the state's bureaucracy for the length of time it will take to get the program up and running. State officials acknowledge the slow start but say they're trying to ensure there is no waste or fraud. And they say federal red tape has been a problem.

The Department of Housing and Community Affairs is on track to get $327 million overall from the stimulus package – 55 times what the state typically gets in a year from the Department of Energy for weatherization work. It has until March 2012 to spend the money, with a goal of weatherizing 56,000 homes.

'Time and quality'

"It's the intersection of time and quality," said Brooke Boston, a deputy executive director at the state Department of Housing and Community Affairs. "If you could give agencies as long as they wanted, could you feel pretty good about every regulation followed to a T and every residence done perfect? Probably."

By the end of November, the most recent data available, the state had weatherized only seven homes through the stimulus program. Five were done by the Sherman-based Texoma Council of Governments and two by Tri-County Community Action in Center, Texas.

"I didn't expect tens of thousands, but seven is shocking," said Randy Chapman, executive director of the Texas Legal Services Center, one of several groups monitoring stimulus spending in Texas.

Boston acknowledged that federal officials "aren't excited about where we are today, and neither are we."

State officials say they expect a "huge jump" in the amount spent by March. Starting in January, the housing department plans to post data on its Web site projecting the number of homes that local agencies and governments will weatherize each month with stimulus funds.

The trickle of weatherization funds spent reflects the debate that has raged since President Barack Obama signed the $787 billion stimulus bill into law nearly a year ago. Among the questions that have been raised: whether the package was focused on work that would actually stimulate economic growth and job creation and whether government had the capacity to spend a great deal of money wisely but also quickly.

In September, Texas ranked 39th among the states in the amount spent. Texas reported to the federal government that three jobs had been created – all of them state positions. An update is expected early next month.

"No one wants to make mistakes," said Bob Scott, director of weatherization services for the National Association for State Community Services Programs. "They are trying to balance the need to show results quickly with the concern that there is increased scrutiny and accountability."

Some watchdog groups predict that states won't be able to keep a lid on waste and fraud as federal dollars flow through.

"There's all kinds of mischief in people fraudulently applying and getting the money when they're not eligible," said Leslie K. Paige, spokeswoman for the Council for Citizens Against Government Waste in Washington. "And then you have the homes and what work is done, and how you verify that."

Even groups that support the weatherization goal say the task is big.

"They were not an agency equipped to take on $327 million," said McCall Johnson, a clean-energy advocate with Environment Texas. "They didn't have the staff. To gear up for it is a lot."

Beverly Davis, an 84-year-old widow, has waited for work to be done on her Garland home since August 2008.

Davis, who said she lives on about $12,000 a year, said Dallas County Department of Health and Human Services workers recently checked her heating and air conditioning system, but it's unclear when caulking and insulation will be done. The work could have saved her money during the recent cold snap.

"It's slow. I heard they're having problems getting crews together," she said.

Daniel Araiza, a program monitor with the health department, said work using stimulus funds is under way on about 75 homes.

Past problems

Texas has a checkered past with the federal Weatherization Assistance Program, which the U.S. Department of Energy has run since the mid-1970s.

In 2003, a state audit documented how some local agencies that received money did weatherization work for people whose incomes were too high to qualify them for the low-income program:

• One local group, which was not identified, used $202,000 for weatherization work at an apartment complex without analyzing whether the work was needed, according to the audit.

• A second local agency changed expired contracts with firms to pay them more for labor costs, instead of allowing other firms to bid, the audit said.

• State inspectors failed to report that a local agency could not produce an entire set of employee time sheets for the past year. Nonetheless, the agency received federal funds for its work, the audit said.

• State housing officials didn't track the amount of federal funds used to weatherize multi-family dwellings and didn't ensure that local agencies and governments gave the low-income elderly and disabled a high priority for receiving weatherization work, the report said.

The state auditor's office has not done a follow-up review, but housing department leaders maintain the problems were corrected "very quickly" after the audit's release in 2003.

The state strengthened rules to determine how income is documented to ensure that people are eligible for the work at their homes, said Gordon Anderson, a housing department spokesman.

State officials said they have crafted an "aggressive monitoring program" to track how federal stimulus funds for weatherization are spent and will do so, in part, by doubling their energy assistance section from 15 to 30 employees, using federal dollars for payroll costs.

Under the Weatherization Assistance Program, the Energy Department ships money to the states, which then contract with community groups and local governments to spend it.

The local groups then hire contractors to insulate walls and attics, seal cracks, caulk windows, and supply energy-efficient appliances. They also monitor the work.

Under the stimulus program, the Texas housing department will more frequently inspect how the local groups and governments are handling their finances, said Michael DeYoung, director of the agency's community affairs division.

Federal regulations require states to inspect 5 percent of homes under the stimulus program. Texas officials say they will inspect 10 percent and possibly more.

Every three months, the state must send the federal government a report with the names of firms that the local agencies and governments hire to weatherize homes.

"If the agency knows their feet are going to get held to the fire for the quality of their work, then ultimately they are not going to keep using a contractor that gives them poor-quality work," said Boston, the state housing department official.

If the federal government is dissatisfied with how the program is run, it can demand that some of the money be returned.

A Dallas Morning News review of state inspection records found that problems at local agencies and governments this year ranged from zero at the Dallas County Department of Health and Human Services to nine at Tri-County Community Action in Shelby County.

The state said Tri-County's initial and final inspections of homes were "incomplete," and the agency spent federal funds on roof and other repairs that didn't save energy. The state said it plans to resolve its concerns with the agency soon. Tri-County's executive director couldn't be reached for comment.

When the state finds problems, it usually dispatches trainers to local agencies. If that doesn't work, federal funds are cut off until work is documented properly, Boston said. Typically, that happens to one to two agencies a year, she added.

Why the slow pace

State housing department officials cite several factors for the slow pace of spending so far, including a new requirement that contractors pay "prevailing wages" to weatherization workers.

But some of the community service agencies have voiced concerns about the state's oversight.

At a public hearing in April in Dallas, Stella Rodriguez, executive director of the Texas Association of Community Action Agencies, cited the housing department's delays in replacing staff and signing contracts, along with inconsistent inspection reports on Dallas apartments.

The agencies also criticized the state for proposing to send stimulus dollars to cities and small nonprofit groups that have no experience running a federally funded weatherization program. The state later dropped the small cities and nonprofits, but kept big cities, including Dallas and Houston, in the pipeline.

"It's not all the state's fault," said Art Kampschafer, contract manager for Community Services Inc. in Corsicana. "The feds have set up a whole bunch of roadblocks as far as restrictions on the money."

Dallas City Hall has set a goal of spending $13 million over two years to weatherize 1,800 Texas apartments and homes of lower-income residents.

Work is expected to start in March, said Terry Williams, assistant director of the city's housing-community services department. The city is collecting bids and will need City Council approval to award the work, he said.

Yesenia Serrato, a Dallas resident, has lined up weatherization work through the Dallas County Department of Health and Human Services.

"It was just supposed to be for insulation, to replace broken glass in the windows, and put caulking where that is needed," she said. "When they tested the house, they said they would replace all of my windows."

23 December 2009

Texas Gained The Most People In 2008-2009


Texas gained more people than any other state in the 12 months ended July 1, with 478,000 new residents, and Florida and Nevada now have more people moving out than moving in, the U.S. Census Bureau said today.

The U.S. population grew 0.86 percent in the last year, to 307 million, the agency said in a release. California posted the second-highest growth, with 381,000 more people, followed by North Carolina with 134,000 and Georgia with 131,000, according to bureau estimates.

The numbers are the final estimates by the bureau before it releases the official 2010 census next December. The numbers are used to determine the distribution of seats in the House of Representatives, the lower chamber of the U.S. Congress.

“We are focused now on ensuring we get a complete and accurate count in 2010,” Census Bureau Director Robert Groves said in a statement.

California stayed the most populous state with a July 1 population of 37 million. Texas had 24.8 million, New York 19.5 million, Florida 18.5 million and Illinois 12.9 million.      Wyoming had the largest percentage growth as its population climbed 2.12 percent to 544,270. Utah was next, increasing 2.10 percent to 2.8 million. Texas ranked third, as its population climbed 1.97 percent to 24.8 million, with Colorado next, growing 1.81 percent to 5 million.      The only three states to lose population over the period were Michigan, with a decline of 0.33 percent; Maine, whose population fell 0.11 percent; and Rhode Island, which dropped 0.03 percent.

It is vitally important now that the state ensures an ample supply of Texas apartments and housing solutions for a growing population.

Louisiana, which lost population after Hurricane Katrina in 2005, grew by 40,563 people, or 0.91 percent, to 4.5 million from a year earlier.

Florida and Nevada, which earlier in the decade had net inflows, are now experiencing new outflows, the bureau said.

21 December 2009

Dallas-Fort Worth Housing Poised For A Rebound

Dallas News

After slogging through two years of decline, the North Texas housing market is headed for a rebound in 2010. The only question, analysts say, is how strong the bounce-back will be. And that depends on the economy, of course."Any sustained turnaround in sales and construction activity will definitely depend on the economy and job growth," said D'Ann Petersen, a business economist at the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas. "We do see increasing signs that the local economy has bottomed out, and business contacts say they are through cutting staff."

Petersen said there are signals that the worst is over for the Dallas-Fort Worth housing market. Next year will look better for builders and buyers.

"It will be slow going in 2010, but I do think that Dallas' housing market is in a better position than many other areas of the country to respond to positive economic growth," she said.

During the last two months, sales of pre-owned homes have increased significantly from year-ago numbers, and price declines have slowed. At the same time, the number of homes for sale in North Texas has fallen to the lowest level in more than two years.

Given the demand from homebuyers, builders will have to start more houses in 2010, said David Brown, an analyst with Metrostudy Inc.

"There now is currently less than a six-month supply of homes priced under $250,000 and just over a six-month supply of homes priced between $250,000 and $500,000," Brown said.

"If homebuilders are not able to start as many homes as they are closing because of lending constraints, then some of those buyers may be forced into the resale market and could cause new home closings to fall further next year."

Builders started only about 13,000 homes this year in North Texas – the smallest production volume in almost two decades.

"The current annual rate of about 13,200 starts should prove to be pretty close to the bottom," said Ted Wilson of housing research firm Residential Strategies Inc. "Interestingly, several builders have suggested that the bottom would have been closer to 11,000 starts – similar to the 1990 bottom – had we not had the $8,000 first-time buyer tax credit."

Wilson is projecting about 15,000 home starts in the D-FW area next year.

"If job growth picks up sooner rather than later, starts could push as high as 17,000, but we are still feeling conservative about the market," he said.

Tight lending

With many small builders cut off from construction loans, Wilson said that large public companies with better access to capital could have an edge in 2010.

"I wouldn't be surprised to see some of the larger builders flex their muscles with regard to access to interim financing and pick up market share in 2010," he said.

In the pre-owned home market, the number of properties listed for sale fell below the six-month supply point in November. That's considered a balanced sales market.

Price outlook

The decline in existing home prices in North Texas has all but stopped. Median home prices have actually inched up from their bottom in February.

National analysts agree that Texas – which for the most part didn't experience the last housing bubble – is poised to see home sector gains in the year ahead.

"We expect the Texas economy to perform better than the national average over the next year," said David Berson, top economist with mortgage insurance company PMI Group. "And because the bubble was less in Texas than in most other states, that's positive for house prices in the state."

"Price gains may be somewhat less in Dallas apartments than some other parts of the state," Berson said. "But [they're] still likely to be at least equal to the national average and probably somewhat better.

Analyst Stephen Bedikian of housing consultant Real IQ is expecting an uptick in the market next spring.

"By March, we're likely to see volume increase and prices firming," he said. "That trend will continue throughout the summer, and then we will return to a market that treads water for the balance of the year.

"I would expect people to be surprised by strength of housing prices between the March and August period."

But foreclosures are unlikely to ease in 2010.

Dallas-Fort Worth apartments and housing foreclosure postings set a record at more than 61,000 filings in 2009 and could be up again in 2010, analysts warn.

"I expect foreclosures next year to be a tad above this year – they are not going down," said George Roddy, president of Foreclosure Listing Service, which tracks local filings.

Roddy said that even when the economy rebounds in North Texas, the foreclosure market will lag. "It takes time after the job market comes back to help people who have been trying to hang on to their house."

20 December 2009

Bankruptcy Court Approves Condo Sale

Houston Chronicle

A bankruptcy court has approved the sale of 44 condominiums in the Endeavour high-rise on Clear Lake.

The winning bidder was a partnership named Wonmore Ltd. The group agreed to pay $9.5 million plus past-due taxes and interest, according to Houston attorney Walter Cicack, who represented Wonmore. The group also said it would pay normally budgeted homeowner assessments for 2010 for any condo owner current on their assessments for 2009. An official from the company could not be reached.

The closing on the units that were unsold when the property went into bankruptcy is scheduled for Dec. 15.

The closing on the units that were unsold when the property went into bankruptcy is scheduled for Dec. 15.

“Everyone expects a renewed interest in the project,” said attorney Deirdre Carey Brown, who represents one of the condo owners.

A backup bid for $9.25 million was assigned to a group including Andrew Rosenberg, who owns property in the area.

The 30-story Endeavour, at 4821 NASA Parkway, had been in legal limbo since earlier this year when its developer filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection the day before the Houston apartments were scheduled to be sold in a foreclosure auction.

Regions Bank was listed as a creditor in the bankruptcy with a claim of $20.8 million.

18 December 2009

Ground Broken For Greenbelt In San Antonio

My San Antonio

As a child growing up on the West Side, Robert Ramirez always was warned to stay away from nearby creeks: They were just too dangerous, adults told him.

And though he lived on one side of a creek and went to school on the other, he obeyed the rules and never went exploring.

Decades later, Ramirez stood alongside those banks he was told not to frequent and saw a very different vision for their future.

“I'll match this part of the Zarzamora and Apache creeks against any other creek and any other part of the river in the county,” said Ramirez, co-chairman of the San Antonio River Authority's Westside Creeks Restoration Oversight Committee.

“It's been a hidden jewel,” he said.

Ramirez was among those gathered Wednesday afternoon beside Zarzamora Creek, just before it meets Apache Creek, for the groundbreaking of a linear park and revitalization project, spearheaded by the San Antonio Alternative Housing Corp.

“This, to me, is a sanctuary,” said Rod Radle, the housing organization's executive director. “It's one that's not utilized.”

This might be one of the last places someone would look for wildlife — in the middle of a highly urban area just north of Our Lady of the Lake University, where the creek is hidden among houses, a warehouse and an apartment complex.

But by springtime, this back alley will be transformed into a greenbelt that runs 8/10 mile, from General McMullen to West Commerce Street and Elmendorf Lake.

Six large bridges will span existing drainage areas that run the length of the greenbelt. The park will include two trails: a 6-foot-wide concrete path, for strollers and the wheelchair-bound; and the other, a 4-foot-wide crushed-granite trail for joggers.

Exercise stations also will be included, in addition to benches.

More trees will be planted; and, unlike some city parks, the lights will remain ablaze all night. Parks and Recreation will patrol and maintain the park, Radle said.

The project was paid for with money accumulated from a Tax Increment Reinvestment Zone, attached to another San Antonio Alternative Housing initiative, the Rosedale affordable housing development. The river authority also provided finishing funds for the project.

The park is scheduled to open in late March or early April.

Radle and other volunteers already have started clearing out much of the brush and trash from the area. But plastic soda bottles, egg containers and even mattresses still litter the ground.

Despite the trash, the creek already is an impressive expanse, stretching 50 feet across in some places, lush with plant life like rain lilies, its gently flowing waters shaded by large, overhanging trees.

On Wednesday, egrets swooped above the water's surface, behind a tent set up for the groundbreaking. Radle already has spotted a turtle laying eggs in the creek's muddy banks.

“I feel inspired,” said Roberto Rodriguez, secretary of the SARA board and its District 2 representative. “Look at this.”

He raised his arms up and pointed to a large nest in a tree overlooking Zarzamora Creek.

Revitalization of West Side creeks long has been of a dream of Rodriguez, a vision that was, until recently, largely ignored.

The West Side soon may reap the benefits of good timing: last year, the SARA launched its Westside Creeks project, an effort to revitalize the Alazan, Apache, San Pedro and Martinez creeks.

That project still is in the planning stages, but the San Antonio Alternative Housing creek project falls within its boundaries and serves as a good pilot project for future development, said Rudy Farias, SARA water resource and community development manager.

Former Mayor Howard Peak, on hand for the groundbreaking, has championed creation of such hike trails through the Linear Creekway Parks Advisory Board, which he chairs.

Bexar County, in conjunction with the city, also has stepped up efforts to improve nearby Elmendorf Lake and its adjoining park near OLLU.

The time is now, many said Wednesday, to finally make something happen.

“We want a rebirth of the waterways on the West Side so they become a center of community activity, and enhance San Antonio apartments and housing,” Bexar County Commissioner Paul Elizondo said.

Chop House Betting On Hungry East Dallas Crowd

Dallas News

Dallas boosters are hungry for signs that the millions being invested in downtown's long-neglected eastern end are bearing fruit.

Karen Babb is just hungry for a good meal closer to her workplace in the Comerica Building, one of the main employment centers on Main Street.Both might get their wishes. In two weeks, restaurateur Mike Hoque, known for his seafood shops, will take a stab at steak in the $3 million Dallas Chop House, opening on the Comerica Building's ground floor.

While most of this year's "development potential" chatter has focused on downtown's glitzed up Arts District, Hoque and his partners are opening where hulking relics of bygone businesses hover nearby.

Hoque said money already plowed into buildings near Comerica, with the promise of more to come, helps him focus on the future.

 "I think we're at the beginning of the upturn," said Hoque, 36, founder and owner of DRG Concepts, a Dallas restaurant company. "All I see is big developers buying buildings around me and converting them to condos. When I see people investing $300 million around me, I feel pretty secure."

DowntownDallas, a nonprofit booster group, offers a brightly colored map with downtown divided into at least eight districts. "Eastern edge" is not one of them. Rather, the phrase over time has become a shorthand way to say, "You know, that area past Neiman Marcus with those empty buildings."

John Crawford, president of DowntownDallas, conceded that the Chop House is at "an end of downtown that has not seen as much traffic."

 That began to change in 2005 when Cleveland-based developer Forest City Enterprises struck a deal with the city to convert the Mercantile Building on Main Street, known for its clock tower, into high-end apartments. The Dallas apartments opened in March 2008, following a city subsidy of about $60 million and an investment of "substantially more than $60 million" by Forest City, said Jim Truitt, vice president of the company's residential development arm in Dallas.

Since October, the Dallas City Council has approved more than $25 million in tax-increment subsidies and federal housing loans for Forest City to restore the vacant Continental Building, also on Main Street.

The revived Merc, across the street from Comerica, is one of the biggest examples of the city's effort to boost the number of downtown dwellers.

Since 2005, the city has directed more than $100 million in public money and subsidies toward reinventing the three blocks on which the Mercantile Building, the new Main Street Garden and a future University of North Texas law school sit.

The hope was that more wallet-bearing residents would lure retailers and restaurateurs.

"It's just now that the eastern end of downtown ... can justify more restaurant activity than what we've seen in recent years," Crawford said. "In the past two ... years, the Merc alone and the [adjacent] Element added 350" apartments.

Hoque has noticed.

"People are moving into downtown," he said as he showed off the Himalayan sea salt (used to dry-age beef) and the leather-clad walls in his 5,700-square-foot steakhouse.

With the Main Street Garden park coming in, also across the street, "we cannot go anywhere but forward in this area," he said.

Only paces away from the Chop House is Hoque's Dallas Fish Market, where this year's sales are running 7 percent higher than last year's.

More than a third of sales at the Dallas Fish Market, which opened in 2007, are convention-driven, he said. He thinks the ratio at the Chop House will be higher because it will attract visiting beef eaters looking for a Texas experience. They'll find selections from executive chef Kenneth Mills such as prime strip steak and crawfish Maque Choux, served beneath Italian chandeliers and cattle-themed artwork from Fort Worth's James Spurlock.

The heavy metal restaurant – metal railings, metal hostess stand, metal art work – also is expected to draw heavily from the 3,200 workers in the Comerica Building, the bank's corporate headquarters. Babb, who has worked in the building since the 1990s, can hardly wait.

"We think it's a great idea," said Babb, an administrative assistant with Andrews Kurth, one of a dozen law firms in the building. "Our attorneys will have a place to take their clients. It's convenient. ... It's a nice place to get away from the office."  Shane Baggett, senior property manager for the building, said he didn't think there had been a restaurant in the 60-story building since the early 1990s. The previous owners wanted to attract a restaurant, he said, "but couldn't get it done."

Most restaurateurs who were approached "were afraid they'd get no night business," he said. "With the Merc and UNT coming in, there's going to be so much more night traffic. It makes sense for a restaurant to be here now."

Not all the traffic streaming into the area is sought-after.

Rich Goza is general manager of the Press Box Grill, at the base of the historic Wilson building at the corner of Elm and Ervay, one block north of Main.

Recent upgrades to Elm – new streetlights, sidewalks and greenery – have improved the look, Goza said. But he said nearby stores selling alcohol and cigarettes often attract the homeless.

"We get a lot of homeless traffic up and down Ervay," he said. "We've had minor fights and issues with them trying to come in" to solicit change.

A year ago, he said, a panhandler came into the restaurant and rebuffed attempts from a manager to get him to leave.

The man "just reared back and slapped her," Goza said. "It was not a good scene."

Crawford conceded that the area faced challenges with panhandlers a "couple of years ago." Since then, Dallas police and his group's own safety patrol have beefed up their presence, he said.

A problem now, he said, would be "a very isolated incident."

For Hoque and other restaurateurs to succeed, that message will need to get out.

"My goal is to bring people downtown once again," he said. "If we do a good enough job, people will come."

17 December 2009

County Turns Down Multi-Family Housing Incentives Proposal


EL PASO, Texas -- The Department of Defense says El Paso is thousands of multi-family housing units short for all the troops coming to the Sun City, and on Monday, El Paso County leaders were asked to take up a policy that could help with the shortage.

The deal to developers is a simple one -- build an apartment or condo complex with at least 150 units and get a full rebate on any increase in county property taxes for the first five years your complex is open.

"We know that the Department of Defense has said that we have an 8,000 unit deficit coming in the Texas apartments as the soldiers start to get here from BRAC," said Kathy Dodson with the city of El Paso.

The city has a similar incentive policy in place to get developers to start building, but on Monday in a 3-1 vote, the county shot down the idea.

"I'm not convinced that we need an incentive policy to create more multi-family housing for the future," said Commissioner Veronica Escobar.

Escobar said the real issue is the lack of credit nationwide.

"I don't think this incentive would necessarily help with that part of the problem," she said.

Commissioner Anna Perez didn't necessarily agree with this policy, but wanted to have a discussion about alternatives to help with the impending problem.

"I thought by deleting it, it ignored the problem, it ignored the advice and the situation that was being described to us," said Perez.

City officials said in the end, soldiers won't necessarily be the ones without Texas apartments to live in.

"Our main concern, and the reason for bringing it to the city and the county is that we're concerned the soldiers who have a monthly housing allowance, might displace El Pasoans who don't have that $892 a month to spend on housing," said Dodson.

Dodson also went on to say hopefully developers will still recognize that the city has an incentives policy and decide to build in El Paso before all of the troops arrive.

16 December 2009

Housing Project Nears Completion In Amarillo


Affordable housing stock in Amarillo will increase with the completion of two apartment complexes in the city, but inventory still won't meet demand, two city representatives said.

Tenants have begun to move in to the first units completed at Cypress Creek at Jason Avenue Apartment Homes, one of two neighboring complexes that Austin apartments developer Bonner Carrington Corp. is building in north Amarillo, just east of River Road.

The $20.7 million dual project will provide affordable housing for families and individuals at Cypress Creek and for older adults at Mariposa Apartment Homes at Jason Avenue, next door.

The housing will be available to individuals and families who make no more than 60 percent of the $53,900 median family income estimated for Amarillo by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Bonner Carrington Corp. started construction of the complexes in September 2008, with help from $13 million in tax-exempt mortgage bonds issued by a multicounty nonprofit agency and $2.55 million in government money.

The government money included $1.1 million from the city of Amarillo Home Investment Partnership Program, which supports construction and renovation of affordable housing, and $250,000 in federal Community Development Block Grant money allocated by the city's Community Development Advisory Committee.

"It won't address the need completely," CDAC Chairman James Allen said. "Honestly, it's a never-ending battle. The more we do, it seems like the more need there is, unfortunately. I don't really see us, in the near future, catching up to the demand."

An estimated 2,400 individuals or families are on a waiting list for rental housing vouchers the city provides through federal funding, city Community Development Administrator Todd Steelman said.

"Right now, that's equating to about a 2½-year waiting time to get on the program," Steelman said.

For several years, the city has received $6 million to $7 million annually for rental assistance for low- to moderate-income residents. About 1,100 individuals or families currently are being served, he said.

The amount that residents receive to help pay rent is determined by their income, Steelman said.

The city has seen increased applications for housing assistance during the current economic downturn. But the waiting period also is being stretched because more individuals and families need to stay in the assistance program longer, Steelman said.

Cypress Creek will contain 156 two-, three- and four-bedroom units upon its completion in March, and about 20 percent of the units already are pre-leased, spokeswoman Beth Woods said.

Five Cypress Creek buildings, containing 66 apartments, are ready for move-in, with about 10 apartments occupied, according to Woods and Property Manager Arra Coleman.

The first units in the 96-apartment Mariposa will be available for senior residents in January, Woods said.

Annual income limits for residents are based on the area's median income for individuals and families of different sizes.

Cypress Creek offers a clubhouse with a fitness studio, a business center, a family activity room, a sport court and playground.

Mariposa will have a fitness room, theater, meeting area, library, salon, card and craft rooms and an outdoor pavilion with a fireplace.

City staff and CDAC members looked at the projects as an opportunity to encourage economic development.

"This is the largest project, that I'm aware of, there (in north Amarillo) in quite some time," Allen said. "We hope that that kind of builds, so that you might see other businesses come in."

Older adults living in north Amarillo also will benefit from a housing solution close to their current home, he said.

"If it's hard for them to maintain a home, this is a way for them to stay in the neighborhood that they're familiar with, but to move into a facility that will take care of a lot of their needs," he said.

Bonner Carrington has developed nine communities of Texas apartments across the state, including two opened last summer in Houston. The company also has plans to announce development of more complexes in 2010, Woods said.

08 December 2009

4 Texas Cities Top Retail-Market Ratings


Even retail is bigger in Texas.

Using a software tool called MarketPulse, Pitney Bowes Business Insights has determined the ten U.S. markets that it expects hold the most promise for retailers over the next six quarters.

Topping the list is Austin, Texas, which the firm cites for its "consistent healthy growth" in gross metropolitan product and personal disposable income.

"Austin tops our list in all of the retail sectors we examined for sustained retail sales growth," the company said. "As we look forward to the next six quarters, Austin also places in the Top Five markets for all retail sectors we examined."

With the exception of Baltimore, which ranks second, the remaining top five cities also are in Texas. They are: Houston, in third; Dallas, in fourth; and San Antonio, in fifth place.

"The Texas markets have been very resilient throughout the recession," said Devon Wolfe, the company's managing director of Americas strategy and analytics for retail, restaurants and real estate. Stable prices of Texas apartments and housing is another key factor.

According to Wolfe, the housing market never overheated as much as boom markets of California and Florida.

"They never had the housing calamities or the dive in employment," Wolfe said.

The job market is an important factor. In fact, the expected increase in government jobs was a key part of the forecast for Baltimore, helping to lift it to its second-place position, and also for Washington, D.C., which ranked sixth.

Both Seattle and Kansas City, benefited from having a diversified employment base.

"Although Seattle's employment continues to soften from the growth seen in 2007 and 2008, this market was able to maintain respectable comparable sales for the last six quarters in all retail sectors," the company said. Looking ahead, Seattle should continue to see increases in its gross metro product.

A full rankings follows:

Most Promising Retail Markets

Ranking    Location
1.              Austin, Texas
2.              Baltimore, Maryland
3.              Houston, Texas
4.              Dallas, Texas
5.              San Antonio, Texas
6.              Washington, DC
7.              Seattle, Washington
8.              Kansas City, Missouri-Kansas
9.              Providence-New Bedford-Fall River, Rhode Island-Massachusetts
10.            Columbus, Ohio

To compile the research, Pitney Bowes Business Insight used MarketPulse to analyze current and forecasted macroeconomic and demographic data and sales history. For this listing, the firm looked at sales results for the past six quarters and then estimated the sales growth for the large metropolitan markets over the next six quarters.

01 December 2009

Permanent Housing For Gulf Storm Refugees

Austin American-Statesman

If there was a lesson to be learned from the government's response to the series of hurricanes that battered the Gulf Coast beginning with Katrina in 2005, it was how not to respond to large natural disasters — especially when it came to housing.

"There are poor people who more than four years after the storm are still not housed," said John Henneberger, co-director of the Texas Low Income Housing Information Service. "That's ridiculous."

Henneberger thought the state could do better. Now, following a wildly successful statewide design competition, Texas stands poised to learn from the early mistakes of the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

After Katrina, FEMA spent hundreds of millions of dollars on trailers that were not only temporary but, in some cases, turned out to be toxic. More money was spent sheltering evacuees in trailers, hotels, apartments and even cruise ships.

Eventually it became clear that there was no real long-term plan, especially for people who couldn't afford to rebuild their destroyed homes. Efforts to produce inexpensive permanent houses stalled, and many displaced Texans still live in temporary residences.

So, Henneberger wondered: What if you could spend the same amount of money on a safe, good-looking house that could be set up quickly when the storm waters receded but then could also be transformed easily into a permanent home?

Two years ago he issued a challenge to Texas architects: Design a small building that could withstand 100-mph winds, be delivered on a single flatbed truck and set up in an afternoon. It should cost next-to-nothing to maintain and be easily expandable and attractive. All for less than $70,000, or what it cost to buy, deliver, set up — and eventually discard — a FEMA trailer.

Nearly 90 Texas building designers responded — "the most popular design competition in state history," said Tom Hatch, an Austin architect who helped set it up. They presented their results last year in a one-day marathon competition — "an architectural smack-down," Henneberger said.

Supporters say the selected homes, the first of which are just now being completed, have the potential to radically change the way government responds to large-scale housing catastrophes.

"We've got a lot of experience with disasters here in Texas — not all of it good," Henneberger said. "We need to learn a lesson. Because this will happen again."

Early mistakes

In the months following Hurricanes Katrina, Rita and, later, Dolly and Ike, it became clear that the storms hit the poor disproportionately. Although large numbers of low-income Gulf Coast residents had owned their homes, many had no or insufficient insurance to replace them.

As a result, Henneberger said, FEMA's rebuilding plans, which depended on people eventually returning to work and being capable of helping to pay for their new homes, turned out to be useless for a large number of the storms' victims.

"The whole premise behind federal relief is people have insurance and will resume a job and be credit-worthy," he said. "But none of that applies if you're poor and old."

As time dragged on for evacuees still in temporary housing, FEMA sponsored attempts to create more permanent homes for displaced Gulf residents. The Katrina Cottage, a small, stylish house designed by a New York architect, was unveiled to rave reviews in 2006.

But the homes were tiny — as small as 300 square feet — and when it came time to set them up permanently, local communities balked, fearing that the minuscule residences would lower real estate values. While thousands of the Katrina Cottages were manufactured in Mississippi and Louisiana, many have yet to be put into use.

In 2007, Texas embarked on its own federally sponsored home-replacement project. The state Department of Housing and Community Affairs solicited designs from manufactured housing companies for a structure that could be set up quickly and could replace some of the state's thousands of lost homes.

After asking local community leaders for ideas, the Texas housing department submitted a half-dozen designs to FEMA and requested $67 million to build them.

"When you look at the 22-county region hit by Rita, it's a very large area with many different housing needs and styles," explained Kelly Crawford, Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs' director of emergency housing and disaster recovery.

Instead, the federal agency selected a single design and released only $16 million to produce the so-called Heston Home. The structures could be shipped and set up easily, and they cost only $60,000 each.

Unfortunately, said Henneberger, "It looks like a glorified shipping container with a porch added. The house is not, by any stretch of the imagination, a structure that would be welcomed into existing neighborhoods."

"It would work well to bring a bunch in and put them in a desert to house soldiers," added Crawford. "They're much better than tents, no doubt."

The state severed its contract with the Heston Group during the summer because of the company's failure to meet deadlines. Meantime, only six Heston Homes have been set up statewide "due mainly to a limited interest," said Gordon Anderson, spokesman for the Texas housing department.

Houston is still planning to install a cluster of the units in a small development. But a full 50 months after Rita, the city has yet to find an acceptable location for the project, and three dozen of the unassembled homes are gathering dust in a warehouse.

"Everybody was just kind of frozen in place," said Henneberger. "We said, 'We're not going to solve this problem for everyone. But this is about making sure the next time we don't make the same mistakes.' "

After lining up the Texas Society of Architects and Covenant Capital, a Houston nonprofit, as partners, Henneberger persuaded the Texas housing department to commit $250,000 to what he labeled the Grow Home project. More than 150 teams of architects registered to submit plans; nearly 90 actually did.

The trick, said Hatch, was to design a ready-to-occupy home that could be mass-produced rapidly all while "fitting in with the neighborhood so it doesn't look like a government house. It should look like it's always been there."

That meant no industrial-park designs, as well as "something real cutesy with frilly gingerbread trim that didn't look like anything else in the neighborhood," said Henneberger.

The one-day competition took place in January 2008 at the Capitol. The judging panel, made up of architects and evacuees, occasionally clashed. The pros favored sleek, modern designs; the refugees pointed out that the big picture windows provided scant security. They preferred the more traditional bungalow look.

Some of the designs were discarded for lack of ramps or for having second-story bedrooms — both hindrances for the large number of evacuees who have disabilities. Other designs, although attractive, "would have looked great in New Mexico or Arizona," said Hatch. "But not in Port Arthur."

In the end, the panel settled on four designs: two traditional bungalow-type homes; a longer and narrow shotgun-style model that would be built in Port Arthur; and a modern cedar, glass and steel version designed by a Houston firm to be constructed in that city.

A new start in Port Arthur

By the time Hurricane Rita was through with Lisa January's Port Arthur home in September 2005, it was unusable. The roof, already weak from deferred maintenance, had been ripped open; the house filled with water.

January and her teenage son moved in with her mother for a temporary stay. She assumed it would be only a matter of months before she could return to her own house. But with no homeowners insurance, the $2,000 she said she received from FEMA didn't go very far.

"They had so many reasons they couldn't help me," she said.

The months turned into years. Port Arthur Mayor Deloris Prince said several hundred city residents who lost houses in Rita are still waiting for permanent replacement homes.

Last week, four years after Rita, January moved into the first of what Henneberger hopes will turn into hundreds of Grow Homes. Designed by Waxahachie architect James Gleason with "a down-home feeling," the compact white house with blue trim sits where January's old home once did.

Over the next year, Henneberger said he's encouraging new residents of Austin apartments and housing to cast a critical eye on the homes so the designs can be improved. Already, he said, "I'm wondering about the durability of the fixtures. And whether it can be cooled inexpensively with all the windows."

For the moment, however, January, a single mother who was recently laid off from her job as a corrections officer, has no complaints. "I love everything about it," she said. "From the front door, all the way to the back."

Housing Dilemma: Low-Wage Workers Face A Struggle

Fort Worth Business Press

While Fort Worth’s cost of living is lower than many similarly-sized cities in the United States, making ends meet is still a struggle for those living on a minimum-wage income.

With average rental rates hovering around $800 for a two bedroom apartment in Tarrant County, the National Low Income Housing Coalition estimates that a person looking to afford fair market rent in Fort Worth, while spending 30 percent of their income on housing, must make more than twice the minimum wage, or almost $32,000 per year before taxes.

A full-time worker with consistent 40 hour work weeks earning the minimum wage in Texas, $7.25 per hour, would bring in a yearly income of about $15,000. A single person making less than $10,800 per year is considered below the federal poverty guideline, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, and a household with two people – such as a single parent with one child – making less than $14,500 is considered below the poverty guideline as well.

“For folks at that [minimum wage] level, their life is one of extreme uncertainty,” said Danilo Pelletiere, research director for the National Low Income Housing Coalition. “If you are housed and earning that kind of money, the housing portion of your budget is going to be 50, 60, even sometimes 70 percent of your income. Now, again, most folks aren’t earning a consistent income, they’re earning an hourly wage, which can fluctuate with seasons such as the [holiday] retail season. Sometimes things are fine and you’re paying your rent fine, and sometimes they’re not.”

North Texas apartment statistics

Fair market rent in the Fort Worth and Arlington areas average around $650 for an efficiency apartment, $700 for a one bedroom, $800 for a two bedroom, and more than $1,000 for a three bedroom, according to data from a number of organizations.

Occupancy and rental rates, or the price per square foot, for apartments in Tarrant County rose from late 2007 through late 2008, but have dropped since, and are continuing to fall through the last quarter of 2009.

Rental rates have taken a steep downward turn in the last few months in Tarrant County, said Leah Christian, Apartment Data Services’ Dallas regional manager. The 12 month rental rate trend for the area is -1.5 percent, and the area’s three month rental growth trend is showing a sharper decline at -5.3 percent, she said.

And while rental rates are dropping, finding housing at a cost that will stay within 30 percent of yearly income for a person making minimum wage is nearly impossible, Pelletiere said. In order to follow the 30 percent rule, a person on minimum wage would have to find an apartment with rent under $375 per month.

Fort Worth’s affordability and new affordable housing efforts

“Compared to other parts of the country, [Fort Worth] is absolutely affordable,” said Fort Worth City Council Member Sal Espino, who represents District 2.

Compound the cost of living with stagnant and sometimes declining wages, and residents experience a tight squeeze, Espino said, adding that the city is planning programs to work on Fort Worth’s housing issues once the economy recovers.

A few years ago, Mayor Mike Moncrief put together a Quality Affordable Housing Task Force to look into the city’s housing issues, and the group found that Fort Worth has an affordable housing need of $1.8 billion, Espino said.

“That’s how much is needed to rehabilitate and build existing housing that would stay within 30 percent of annual median income, and infill housing,” he said. “What we’re doing now is, the city owns a lot of tax foreclosed properties, and we’re trying to target areas in the city, in individual council districts, where we could get some tax credits to build housing that is affordable.”

Espino added that any efforts on renovating the foreclosed properties would have to wait until the city’s budget is stronger and the economy is moving forward.

Life on the minimum wage

Workers who earn minimum wage incomes are often moving, Pelletiere of the Low Income Housing coalition said. They move often sometimes because they may not be able to afford their rent, or may have found cheaper rent, or maybe because they are moving into a shelter, he said.

“You’re always sort of one step away from that kind of move, and the feeling that the next move will be into a shelter or into your car,” he said. “Whether it’s a car accident, or an unexpected bill, or a family member who is sick, that will mean a move of some kind and possibly an eviction. The issue for these folks again is not only that they can’t afford rent, it’s that they’re always at risk of not being able to afford it, and the anxiety that creates,” he said. “And, there’s the tradeoffs you make. Tradeoffs in terms of health care, in terms of food, in terms of living in abusive situations to have secure housing.”

Andrea Helms, director of communications for the Tarrant Area Food Bank, said a food budget is what people believe is the most flexible tier of their budget.

“You have to pay your rent and utility bills, but food, that’s where you can skimp,” she said.

The Tarrant Area Food Bank collects donated food to send out to more than 300 food pantries in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. Since July of 2009, those pantries have seen a 28 percent increase over 2008 in the number of households served, Helms said.

‘Directions Home’

The high-risk pool for people living on low incomes who are at risk of becoming homeless has grown during the last two years with the recession, said Otis Thornton, homelessness coordinator for the city of Fort Worth.

“If you think about everything you need to have to function well in our society today, and you begin to total that up, it’s a little easier to see how it can overwhelm a low-wage household,” Thornton said.

In Fort Worth, the Directions Home program adopted by the City Council in 2008 aims to make chronic homelessness – defined as a period of more than 12 months without a secure living environment – rare, short-term, and non-recurring by 2018 by combining housing with supportive services.

As of Nov. 2, the Directions Home program provided housing, Fort Worth apartments and services for 144 people, Thornton said.

While programs such as Directions Home are cropping up across the United States as cities work to help homeless citizens find housing and work, awareness of the issues low- and minimum-wage income earners face is increasing, Pelletiere said.

“People certainly are more aware of how quickly one can become poor,” he said. “In a way, a few years ago most people probably felt that there was a lot of room between them and poverty, and the quick speed with which you can lose a home and find yourself driving around in an expensive car and not knowing where your next meal will come from. There’s recognition suddenly of our vulnerability.”