CSG Midwest

Three years in the making, a new Ohio law is being lauded as a possible model for states across the country looking for ways to deal with the problem of abandoned, blighted properties. HB 390, which took effect this fall, establishes a “fast track” foreclosure process. According to The Columbus Dispatch, the process has sometimes taken two or three years, during which time the vacant property can become a problem for surrounding homes and an entire community.

When Hurricane Ike hit Harris County, Texas, in 2008, the damage was substantial. The second costliest hurricane in America’s history destroyed a vast stretch of housing in the area, leaving thousands of people homeless and devastating local infrastructure. This created a host of challenges for public officials, not least of which was restoring access to water and electricity and rebuilding homes. Using funding from a Community Development Block Grant and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, Harris County began its recovery process. Unfortunately, the county quickly encountered difficulties with contractors regarding code review and safety standards.

While the economy and the housing market has improved since the recession, some states are still recovering. Many states are focused on helping homeowners who are falling behind to help them avoid foreclosure. States like Florida, Georgia and Washington have found success in programs to help homeowners avoid foreclosure.

Efforts around the country to revitalize downtowns and create economically vital and aesthetically pleasing communities, often centered on transit hubs, have created a greater need for a private-public entity that can manage these areas to ensure their long-term sustainability. While most states have laws on the books to enable these special districts, some experts say they are still too difficult to establish and that some of the decades-old laws may need to evolve to reflect the expanding mission of these districts and the changing nature of the communities they serve.

Brian Seasholes doesn’t think the Endangered Species Act does a very good job of protecting the at-risk species it was designed to preserve. Seasholes, a research fellow at the Reason Foundation whose work focuses on wildlife and land-use issues, was the featured speaker at a recent CSG eCademy session, “Bringing a Collaborative Approach to the Endangered Species Act.” He said the act, which was passed in 1973, is a stronger law than most members of Congress realized at the time. If you harm an endangered species or even its unoccupied habitat, you can be subject to up to a $100,000 fine and up to one year in jail.

While the country has been enjoying a surge in domestic energy production due to hydraulic fracturing, it has led to more development of wells close to homes and, in some cases, within city limits. Some cities are pushing back. Residents of the city of Denton, Texas, in November 2014 passed a ballot to ban hydraulic fracturing—often called fracking—within city limits, making it the first major Texas city to do so and igniting a public policy debate. In Texas, state law gives the railroad commission authority and jurisdiction over oil and gas wells. State law, however, also gives local governments the power to impose reasonable health and safety regulations—a specific concern cited in the ballot initiative language for the ban.

State verses local control is not a new issue, but it is an important one for the nation’s top oil and gas producer and is likely to be settled by the courts or the state legislature.

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The foreclosure crisis that followed the 2008 housing crash has resulted in a high volume of vacant properties across the nation. According to U.S. Census Bureau data for the last quarter of 2013, 10.2 percent of all housing units — 13.6 million — were vacant year-round. And while the housing market may be showing signs of improvement, more than 1.2 million properties are still in some stage of foreclosure, according to RealtyTrac, a real estate information firm specializing in foreclosed and defaulted properties.
High foreclosure and vacancy rates are not only symptomatic of economic problems; they contribute to them and are linked with increases in crime and declines in home values and local property tax revenue.
In response, some states — including Indiana, Kansas, Michigan, Nebraska and Ohio in the Midwest — have instituted local land banks: public entities that acquire and manage tax-foreclosed properties.

As reported by Nick Timiraos of the Wall Street Journal, more than half of all houses bought last year and so far in 2013 have been bought with cash rather than mortgage financing. Indeed the number of houses bought with cash has jumped tremendously since the Great Recession.  

An appropriations bill funding the Transportation and Housing and Urban Development departments passed a procedural test in the U.S. Senate this week in surprisingly bipartisan fashion. Nineteen Republicans broke ranks to add to the 73 to 26 vote tally to move the bill forward. The bill is the first in a series of 12 appropriations bills that the Senate has the responsibility of passing. The Senate’s $54 billion funding level is higher than the President’s request, something the President has praised, but more importantly it is also significantly higher than the House version of the bill, which only provides $44 billion. The President has promised to veto the House version if it reaches his desk.

Consider this Yahoo Real Estate blog in which Michelle Huffman explains that not many people actually pay 20 percent down on a home, which used to be the norm.  According to a hypothetical calculation, Huffman says that...