At the end of last month, the Palm Beach County Commissioners, County Administrator, decision-makers, community leaders and others in the region, assembled at the Palm Beach County Convention Center for a six-hour annual summit. The focus of the Palm Beach Housing Summit was to find a way to “reduce financial barriers, policy and regulatory barriers while exploring innovative tools and models that will provide the housing options that will keep pace with growth in our community.”
It was very productive for those with an interest in the maintenance of a sustainable community such as real estate employees, lenders, housing counselors, non-profits, etc.
One of the topics discussed was how to respond to the increasing challenge of providing affordable housing for youngsters. Crisis Housing Solutions executive director Craig Vanderlaan suggested the use of shipping containers to build more affordable housing as has been the case in London (for a shopping mall), Los Angeles (housing for veterans) and the Netherlands (student housing).
A new program – Hardest Hit – has provided Florida with $1bn to help those who are unemployed (or underemployed) keep their homes. Around 3,400 home-owners are being helped in this way. The program began nine months ago from Florida and since that time, around 23,320 have filled out applications. A staggering $77.3 m has been given to those applications that were approved (or set aside for them). Moving over to Palm Beach County, out of the 1,931 applications received, 348 were approved and $7.7m was paid out or reserved for this program.
To be eligible for the program, homeowners need to be Florida residents, using the property as their primary residence. As well, they need to be unemployed/underemployed with a total household income that does not reach 140 percent of the area median income. Finally, their financial hardship must be the result of something that the homeowner did not cause themselves.
There have however, been some critics of the program. For example, some have complained that too many people are not eligible. Indeed, close to 10,000 homeowners failed the eligibility test. One of the reasons was that they were more than 180 days late for mortgage payments. But that seems unfair as they probably did not pay because they were unable to and thus need the help from the Hardest Hit program.
So while Hardest Hit is a great program, it definitely has room for improvement.
According to a report from Zillow, in the third quarter of 2011, those selling their homes in Palm Beach County lost money on almost 46 percent of occasions. This was an increase of 3.4 from the second quarter. As well, in September, national figures were 34 percent of homes selling for a less which is three percent more than for the same time frame last year.
And it looks like there is more bad news along the way. According to one economist at Zillow, home prices are meant to plummet a further three to five percent before hitting rock bottom nationwide. The economy isn’t doing great with unemployment, negative equity and more. With such features plaguing the economy, is going to be a long time until the housing market stabilizes.
Close to 50 percent of homeowners in Broward, Miami-Dade and Palm Beach owed more on their mortgages than the worth of their homes during the third quarter. This figure has slightly increased since the second quarter. It also looks like next year, the values on South Florida homes will be hitting bottom. At that point, banks will have to start unloading all these homes. The one silver lining on the cloud according to the Zillow report is that there has been a reduction in pace of home-values.