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Archive for the ‘Housing’ Category

Federal audit dings San Mateo county

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Beth Winegarner
Examiner Staff Writer
July 16, 2007

A federal audit of the San Mateo County Housing Authority has turned up two significant potential violations, one of which could cost the county $2 million in repayments.

While the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development audits the authority routinely, most discrepancies and violations are resolved quickly, according to authority Director Duane Bay.

This time, HUD is investigating two issues — one related to fund transfers, and one related to 71 families who were bumped to the top of the waiting list for Section 8 housing — that could be more challenging to resolve.

Audits of paperwork from 2004 through 2006 show that the Housing Authority took $2.3 million from several of its funds to repay cost overruns incurred during the construction of Colma’s 30-unit El Camino Village project in 2001.

While HUD approved those internal loans, some of those approval documents have been lost during leadership changes at the County Housing Authority, Bay said.

In a separate alleged violation, the Housing Authority pulled 300 families from a list of those waiting for federally subsidized Section 8 housing and moved them into its Moving to Work program, which helps working families find housing. However, 71 of those families did not get housing. They were placed at the top of the Section 8 waiting list, Bay said.

“It turns out there’s a regulation that says if you [give a preference to working families], you have to also give a preference for seniors and disabled people,” Bay said.

At the time, HUD gave approval for the Housing Authority to move those families to the top of the waiting list, he added.

“We thought we were abiding by the rules, or we wouldn’t have done it,” Bay said.

If HUD disagrees with the Housing Authority’s stance, the county could be ordered to pay $2 million to the 71 families displaced from the top of the Section 8 waiting list.

San Mateo County’s Section 8 waiting list had 2,025 families on it as of July 1, according to Bill Lowell, deputy director of the Housing Authority. Most of those should be placed or will take themselves off the list by the end of 2007, he said.

HUD officials said they would not discuss the audit, citing confidentiality.

It could take another three months for HUD to make its findings public and to review the county’s response to its audit, according to Bay.

“We’re hoping that, through the appeal process, HUD will mitigate some of the sanctions,” Supervisor Jerry Hill said. “I hope they will not see fit to charge us.”

This article originally appeared in the San Francisco Examiner.

Written by Beth Winegarner

July 16, 2007 at 10:21 PM

Man attempts to sandbag ‘foreclosure tsunami’

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Beth Winegarner
Examiner Staff Writer
March 14, 2007

One local businessman is kicking off an effort to rescue locals from losing their homes to foreclosure.

Walter Moeller, a San Carlos resident and businessman, took action after seeing the number of foreclosure warnings rise nearly 400 percent. Statewide, notices of default — those stern letters people receive from their mortgage lenders when they stop making their mortgage payments — rose 37 percent between the third and fourth quarters of 2006, according to DataQuick, and continue to rise, Moeller said.

In response, Moeller founded the Home Preservation Institute, whose mission is to identify homeowners who are behind on their payments and recruit local nonprofit organizations, grant funds and other resources to keep people from losing their homes.

In cases in which people can’t recover, the institute will make sure those homes wind up in the hands of nonprofits so that they can be renovated and sold to low- and moderate-income locals.

“I think many buyers were misled, and they went in with a half-percent of interest, and they’re shocked when it goes up,” Moeller said. “Now, the market has slowed down and the value of the home is less than what their loans are. People are under water.”

The increase in foreclosure rates is something local agencies, such as the Housing Leadership Council, are monitoring, according to Director Chris Mohr. People buying entry-level homes, or homes on the edge of their income level, are at the highest risk.

“Their ability to make the monthly payments may be conditioned on a low introductory rate and their ability to refinance later,” Mohr said. “That works well when the market is trending upward, but if appreciation falls it may be more than the household can afford.”

One problem may be that borrowers often see mortgage brokers as the badguy once they become unable to meet their payments. To that end, lenders are beginning to reach out more to homeowners and attempt to resolve payment problems before foreclosure happens, according to Dustin Hobbs, spokesman for the California Mortgage Bankers Association.

Despite those efforts, borrowers refuse to respond 60 percent of the time, according to Hobbs. Not only does that hurt homeowners, but it leaves lenders stuck with properties — not their area of expertise.

“We have lenders who say, ‘Let’s talk, let’s work something out.’ They’ve got an interest in making sure the borrower stays in the home,” Hobbs said. “No one wins in a foreclosure situation.”

This article originally appeared in the San Francisco Examiner.

Written by Beth Winegarner

March 14, 2007 at 10:41 PM

Posted in Housing, San Carlos

New low-income apartments planned near Caltrain station

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Beth Winegarner
Examiner Staff Writer
August 16, 2006

A plan to build 60 affordable apartments next to the Hillsdale Caltrain station demonstrates just how difficult it can be to create living space for low-income workers on the Peninsula.

San Mateo will loan $5.3 million to the Mid-Peninsula Housing Coalition to purchase land at 2901 and 2905 South El Camino Real, the current home of a Goodyear tire shop next to the rail corridor and across from the Hillsdale Shopping Center.

The San Mateo City Council on Monday unanimously approved the loan, which Mid-Peninsula Housing will use to purchase the one-acre site while it raises more money to demolish existing buildings and design and build a mixed-use site with ground-floor retail and up to 64 apartments for families, according to Mid-Peninsula Housing President Fran Wagstaff.

“That’s what it costs for one acre,” Wagstaff said. “That’s why it’s so hard to build anything.”

It is also rare for landowners along El Camino Real — one of the few regions zoned for multifamily housing — to sell their properties. When they do, agencies like Mid-Peninsula Housing often compete with condominium developers for parcels, and the buyer with the most money frequently wins, according to Wagstaff.

In 1999, the Association of Bay Area Governments recommended that the city of San Mateo create 2,437 new affordable units by 2006, including residences for low-income renters and buyers. By 2006, San Mateo had built 1,276.

“Even at the greatest theoretical densities, this project will be maybe 60 units,” said Robert Muehlbauer, San Mateo’s neighborhood improvement and housing manager. “When you compare that with the hundreds that are needed, it’s a struggle; where does the money come from?”

San Mateo’s loan was cobbled together from redevelopment agency funds plus federal and state grants for very low-income rentals. When the El Camino project is built, all of its apartments will be guaranteed to rent at below-market rates for 55 years, according to Vice Mayor Jack Matthews.

Despite the difficulty in creating such projects, the site is seen as ideal for work force housing, since it is located where the Hillsdale Caltrain station will be moved as a part of the Bay Meadows Phase II Redevelopment, according to Bay Meadows Land Company spokesman Adam Alberti.

The new multimodal station will have four tracks and pathways for easy pedestrian and bicycle access.

This article originally appeared in the San Francisco Examiner.

Written by Beth Winegarner

August 16, 2006 at 10:13 PM

Posted in Housing, San Mateo, Transit

Tiny homes are big business for Bay Area architect

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Beth Winegarner
Daily News Staff Writer
September 13, 2005

Much has been made of the trend towards monster homes — those giant, sprawling houses populating Bay Area hillsides. At least one Bay Area architect, however, is perpetuating the idea of the anti-McMansion: the tiny home.

Jay Shafer lives in a 70-square-foot house he built five years ago on a rented parcel in the woods. In that space he has an office, a kitchen, a bathroom and a small loft to sleep in; just enough to call it home.

With that first home he launched the Tumbleweed Tiny House Company, through which he builds small, prefabricated houses that are as small as his forest bungalow or as large as 500 square feet.

After Shafer appeared on KQED radio last month, interest in his tiny homes skyrocketed so swiftly he will build as many homes in the coming months as he has in the previous five years.

“It’s starting to catch on,” he said. “People are getting into the idea.”

Although some balk at the idea of such a small space, these homes, many of which are prefabricated by builders like Shafer, have their advantages. Their size makes them more affordable — many cost less than $50,000 — and they are also portable.

Tiny homes’ diminutive nature also makes them more adaptable. They can be used as stand-alone houses, vacation cottages, or second homes on a property, perfect for an aging parent, a workspace or studio or for a child who is still living at home but wants more independence. They can also be rented, creating a secondary source of income for homeowners.

“People are either trying to pare down or create a freestanding addition to their home,” Shafer said. “Some people need more and some need less.”

In the summer of 2003, California’s legislature relaxed laws regarding second units, often called granny units, making it easier for homeowners to build them. Many legislators said it was an opportunity to create more affordable housing without adding to sprawl.

While Shafer said tiny homes are catching on in the Bay Area, the bug hasn’t hit the Peninsula just yet. In two years since California changed its second-unit laws, just four to six units have been added per year in San Mateo, according to senior planner Ron Munekawa.

No free-standing tiny homes have been recently built in San Mateo.

“Five hundred square feet isn’t a home, it’s an apartment,” Munekawa said. “You would have to find land that’s cheap enough to make the economics work.”

Redwood City adds about 10 new second units per year, said planner Blake Lyon. The city’s zoning code restricts such units to less than 640 square feet.

Like Munekawa, Lyon was skeptical that Peninsula residents would want to build something so small as a freestanding house.

“Given land prices, I haven’t seen examples of someone building a unit that small on their own, other than a mobile home,” he said.

But for Bay Area residents who can’t afford the median price tag on a home — now upwards of $890,000 in San Mateo County, according to a recent study — might find tiny homes a cost-effective alternative, Shafer said.

They can also function as starter homes, which may be added to as money becomes available.

Tiny homes can even lead to tiny communities. In Greenway, Va., a subdivision was populated with smaller homes as a way of conserving the surrounding land and its wildlife.

These homes are the subject of a bevy of books, including Patricia Foreman’s “A Tiny Home To Call Your Own” and Shafer’s “The Small House Book,” which he is currently updating. For him, tiny homes express the importance of aesthetics and environmental preservation.

“I live in 70 square feet, and that’s good for me, but I don’t think there are many people that would be good for,” he said. “However, I hope it suggests to someone who is looking at 4,000 square feet for two people that maybe they could consider less. There might be a happy medium.”

This article originally appeared in the San Mateo Daily News.

Written by Beth Winegarner

September 13, 2005 at 8:46 PM