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Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Be creative

Waiting for the next onslaught of news from the world’s credit markets, here’s some musing on “recovery.”

The Sacramento-Stockton area, since it was an epicenter of foreclosure activity, has more recently begun to demonstrate the ways local real estate markets can emerge creatively from the depths of the economic crunch.

The community of Elk Grove, for example, has 967 bank-owned properties, most of them boarded and silent, waiting to go on to the market at an undetermined future date. Recently, though, fifteen of the homes have been purchased by a municipal organization, improved, and sold at a low enough price to qualify as a great opportunity for low-end buyers.

The money for this comes from the federal Neighborhood Stabilization Program and the improvements are guided locally by NeighborWorks. The amount of money allocated is determined by how bad the foreclosure situation is and has been in an area. Elk Grove has receive $2.4 million. The city suffered 2,657 foreclosures between January 2007 and June 2008—which should qualify it for great sympathy, at the least.

There are currently about six homes on the market (check egplanning.org/housing). It’s limited to first-time buyers within certain income ranges. And it’s working.

Now, the sale of fifteen homes to qualified low-income buyers is hardly going to make the foreclosure problem disappear. But within the modest parameters of its goal and expectations, it’s working. When a home goes from empty and boarded to attractive and occupied by people with pride of ownership, the whole neighborhood begins to improve. Lenders get REOs off their books. Local builders get work. And any profit generated by the project goes back into the program to help bankroll the next home improvements. (The program also includes assistance with down payment.)

Such things need to be done on a small scale, it seems; otherwise, they stop working very well. “Baby steps,” as the old film, “What About Bob?” asserted.

I confess I am astonished that we are still seeing so few effective programs dealing with foreclosed properties, homeowners who are underwater, and neighborhoods in decline. Perhaps most people look at the magnitude of the remaining problems and assuming it’s all too much and there is no way to whittle it down to the size that allows us to make genuine progress toward solutions.

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