- Associated Press - Monday, February 29, 2016

The Detroit News. Feb. 23, 2016

New mortgage plan a boost for Detroit.

Getting a mortgage for a home in Detroit, now nearly impossible, should get easier thanks to a new partnership between the city, state and several lenders to offer bridge loans to buyers of houses with assessed values that fall short of the market price. It’s a smart way to solve a problem that was holding back the city’s neighborhood stabilization efforts, but that it is even needed is an example of how federal policies are hurting America’s cities.

The $40 million mortgage aid plan will allow borrowers to get a first loan to cover the agreed upon selling price of a home. But as is often the case in Detroit, what the market deems as the home’s value often falls short of what the bank’s assessor says it’s worth.

That’s due in part to the limited number of comparative sales in most neighborhoods, and that the three-year assessment time frame doesn’t capture a healthy rise in Detroit’s home values.

The Detroit Home Mortgage, discussed in Mayor Mike Duggan’s State of the City address Tuesday, will offer buyers a second mortgage to cover that gap. So if a buyer and seller agree upon a $60,000 sale price, for example, and the assessor only values the home at $55,000, the second mortgage will cover the difference.

The money to back the loans is coming from the state housing authority, the Kresge Foundation, the Ford Foundation, the Clinton Global Initiative and other sources. Several local banks are participating.

It’s sorely needed. Last year, Duggan says only 500 mortgages were issued in Detroit, on 3,000 home sales. Most people can’t afford to pay cash for a home, so a lot of would-be Detroit homeowners are being shut out of the market.

Mortgage lending is tighter across the country, but even more so in urban areas with high percentages of low-income residents. That reflects the strict limits placed on lenders by the Dodd-Frank Act.

Among other things, the law, passed after the financial collapse of 2008, has encouraged banks to set higher credit score requirements on mortgage seekers. It has also demanded a greater demonstration by borrowers of their ability to repay the loan. And it has caused lenders to be extremely conservative in setting the value of properties.

While the intent is to avoid another sub-prime lending meltdown, it has also had the effect of shutting many lower income earners out of home ownerships, and made it tougher even for middle class buyers to purchase homes in less stable markets such as Detroit.

Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen acknowledged the negative impact in testimony to the Senate Banking Committee last year.

“Demand for housing is still being restrained by limited availability of mortgage loans to many potential home buyers,” Yellen said.

Duggan and Gov. Rick Snyder have come up with a creative end-around the tight mortgage market. With housing values rising in the city and more neighborhoods being revived, the risk to taxpayers should be low.

Ideally, Congress will at last act to amend Dodd-Frank to allow more potential buyers access to mortgages and negate the need for such programs.

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The Lansing State Journal. Feb. 24, 2016

‘Homeless no more’ raises $400K.

Volunteers Of America Michigan Inc. (VOAMI) announced more than $400K raised at the fourth annual ‘Homeless No More’ event this month in East Lansing.

This includes more than $320K in partnership with the Delta Dental Foundation to open a free dental clinic at the downtown location.

VOAMI announced plans for the clinic - with the remodel already underway - to a record-setting 400 attendees.

The clinic will complement a medical clinic and disability services center already in operation.

What this means for those in need is access to free dental care for men, women and children who would not otherwise be able to afford it.

For everyone else, this shows dedication to helping out those less fortunate and caring for each other.

Urgent Care brings after hours care to St. Johns residents

For the first time, St. Johns residents will have an alternative to the emergency room for after hours, weekend and non-critical care.

Ouch Urgent Care, which opened last month, fills a need for St. Johns residents who formerly had to decide between the Sparrow Clinton Hospital emergency room and driving to Dewitt, Owosso or even further away.

This is a win-win for residents and the hospital, which is expected to see a decrease in non-emergency patients and will be able to better focus on critical cases, a nurse supervisor at the hospital said.

The Urgent Care is colocated with the Clinton County Medical Center in the Southpoint Mall 1005 S. US-27.

Habitat for Humanity merger to benefit county

The newly-merged Habitat for Humanity Capital Region could bring projects to Mason and Holt for the first time. The organization is a great demonstration of community, providing homes for families in need and a great way for neighbors to get involved; and the merger will only make this easier.

Habitat for Humanity Lansing has merged with Habitat for Humanity Greater Ingham - previously not countywide - which will allow for greater efficiency in both operations and resource use, said Vicki Hamilton-Allen, executive director of Habitat for Humanity Capital Region.

Having the organization countywide is of greater benefit to families in need. Over the past 28 years, Habitat for Humanity has propelled the community to help more than 800 families in the area, and will continue to do so with a greater capacity.

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Detroit Free Press. Feb. 24, 2016

In third year, Duggan trains attention on neighborhoods.

Every neighborhood has a future, Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan promised, during his 2013 campaign to become this struggling city’s leader.

Three years into Duggan’s term, it’s far too soon to judge whether the mayor has made good on that promise. But Duggan’s third State of the City address marks significant progress for a city that emerged from bankruptcy a little more than a year ago. And the programs Duggan is putting in place have the potential to address some of the city’s most pernicious problems.

Like the Detroit Home Mortgage program, aimed at homebuyers who qualify for a mortgage, but can’t buy in the city because of appraisal values artificially depressed by the foreclosure crisis. Of 3,000 home sales in Detroit last year, only 500 involved a mortgage. Because foreclosures hit Detroit hard, homes for sale often can’t appraise at the agreed-upon sale price, leaving would-be buyers with few options.

Or the ongoing demolition program, the most aggressive in the nation. Duggan’s administration has demolished more than 7,000 buildings. After serious lobbying by Michigan’s Congressional delegation, the federal government recently announced that the state will receive another $323 million in funds that can be used for demolition. The bulk of those funds will be spent in Detroit.

Duggan noted the cooperation from disparate parties needed for both of these programs and called on more to address Detroit’s failing schools. Describing his experiences seeing children having to wear their coats in school, and 40 students in a classroom, he called on the state to address the district’s debt - accumulated after nearly seven years of state management.

He urged legislators to truly address the city’s education crisis with one commission to monitor all schools - public and charter - and provide stability in school openings and closures - citing 12 schools that opened and closed in southwest Detroit in just 18 months. Such a commission is held up now in an ideological fight to stop additional controls on charter schools. Addressing these issues, Duggan said, building on his election promise for neighborhoods, would give every child a future, too.

Duggan’s not the first mayor whose principal challenge - aside from balancing the budget - has been how to connect nascent recovery in Midtown and downtown to the city’s neighborhoods, where most Detroiters actually live. It’s a city of blinding contrasts, from widespread blight to thriving mansions, from folks trapped in generations of poverty to wealthy professionals with seemingly limitless options. But nowhere in this city do Detroiters receive the services and quality of life residents of other cities take for granted - and in the city’s most affluent neighborhoods, residents too often pay out-of-pocket for services the city should provide. And they’re the lucky ones. In less-fortunate neighborhoods, services just aren’t there.

Detroit’s plight took decades to develop, and its remedy will take decades to reach. Duggan is not a perfect mayor. His penchant for control means agencies or entities with help to offer are sometimes shut out or marginalized, and his governing philosophy is rooted in the kind of broad municipal umbrella that Detroit, and few other cities can afford these days.

But his enthusiasm for this job continues unabated. And this suburban transplant’s willingness to wrest solutions out of key stakeholders, seemingly by dint of sheer will power, is very Detroit. At the outset of his third year in office, we’re optimistic about the future.

Finally.

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The Port Huron Times Herald. Feb. 24, 2016

Don’t clarify gag order, get rid of it.

Michigan lawmakers banned free speech with Public Act 269 of 2015. After widespread outrage, Gov. Rick Snyder signed the act into law anyway - with the suggestion that the Legislature might want to clarify the section that prohibited local governments and school districts from explaining a local ballot question during the period 60 days before an election.

On Feb. 5, U.S. District Judge John Corbett O’Meara issued an injunction against that part of the law, saying it was probably unconstitutional and that it would serve the public interest if local governments or districts with ballot issues on the March ballot were able to explain them to voters.

On Tuesday, the state House passed a bill to “clarify” the gag order rule.

It doesn’t ban free speech. It only threatens it.

Lawmakers sought to tone down the outrage over the earlier bill by allowing local officials to say some things about ballot issues, and lowered the penalty for violations from jail time to a civil infraction. The bill the House passed, largely along party lines, also removes the 60-day barricade.

Judge O’Meara said the original statute was unconstitutionally broad and vague. Lawmakers’ clarification does nothing to fix that. Setting a requirement at communications be “factual” and “neutral” in the judgment of a reasonable person does little to draw boundaries about what can and can’t be said, and does much to embolden gadflies to tie up every quibble in court.

Look no farther than Cottrellville Township. Does anyone doubt that factions aren’t already aligned to challenge every comment officials might make if the township decides to seek a new tax to pay for fire protection? It would serve no valid government purpose to have local officials tied up in legal knots over a local ballot issue.

The best and only way to deal with the Public Act 269 gag order is to get rid of it. Adding more adjectives to a bad law and horrible policy only clarifies the contempt lawmakers show for voters.

Get rid of the gag order.

Michigan already has laws that prohibit local officials from campaigning for ballot issues. It apparently works. The Michigan Municipal League says that out of hundreds of ballot issues over the past five years, the law has been used only a handful of times.

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