Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Urban farming spreading in Pittsburgh; Green Up Pittsburgh; Pepsi Refresh Project; Andrew McCutchen

The nationwide trend toward urban consolidation and urban farming has intersected with Major League Baseball amd Pepsi.

Earlier this month I commented on the urban farming trend that is beginning to take hold in major cities across the country, especially Pittsburgh. The previous article listed numerous urban farms taking root in Pittsburgh.

A new initiative by the City seeks to take advantage of a grant competition sponsored by Pepsi for the purpose of creating another urban farm in the Homewood section:

The competition is sponsored by Pepsi, which is offering 15 Major League Baseball teams the opportunity to receive a $200,000 grant as part of the Pepsi Refresh Project, designed to help improve communities.

The proposed initiative will fund the education, tools and support to cultivate an urban garden, which would be used to grow fruits and vegetables that would be donated to various nonprofit organizations to feed the hungry, including the youths participating in various programs at the Homewood-Brushton YMCA.

The idea was supported at a press conference yesterday featuring Mayor Ravenstahl and Pittsburgh Pirate center fielder Andrew McCutchen. The competition is clearly not intended to be an isolated event:

The urban garden idea is an extension of the Green Up Pittsburgh program that was introduced in 2007 to combat the increasing problem of overgrown vacant and abandoned lots in city neighborhoods.

While there is no guarantee that Pittsburgh will win the competition and be the recipient of Pepsi's grant money, 15 different cities are competing and the urban farming concept will advance a little further in one of those cities.

The competition is to be decided by online vote. The Post-Gazette article contains information on how to vote.

The other cities competing for the Pepsi grant have proposed ideas unrelated to urban farming.

Here is Andrew McCutchen's promotional video.

The video and the press conference did not make clear how big the garden/farm would be, but at a cost of $200,000, it had better be a very big garden.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

July Flooding in Central Pennsylvania; Real Estate Property Disclosure

Recent rains have brought minor flooding to parts of Pennsylvania from Bedford to various points to the east.

Property damage is minor and lives have not been in danger. But this flooding still should be disclosed if you are selling a property that suffered from any flooding.

Sales are very slow now, but new homeowners are this week seeing their first heavy rains in the properties that they just purchased this Spring as the tax credit incentive expired. Some of those new homeowners are undoubtedly pulling their Sellers' Disclosure form out of their packets and reviewing the part that should have disclosed flooding. Some of them might even be calling their Realtors (or lawyers) to inquire about the possibility of pursuing their sellers for not disclosing that the property floods during heavy rain.

If you are selling property now, keep this scenario in the back of your head as you fill out the disclosure. The more you disclose, the less justification the buyer will have for suing you later on.

If you are a buyer, look closely at your prospective properties today (or at some point when the heavy rain is falling). Sales are slow and sellers are desperate. Sellers will lie and conceal in order to move a property and get out from under a mortgage that they can no longer afford.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Blockbuster in Central Pennsylvania; Commercial tenants in bankruptcy

From Yahoo finance comes the story of numerous companies that might not exist in one year. Blockbuster stands out among the list because of its real estate usage:
Blockbuster may still be around as a company that has movie kiosks and a small mail and Internet-delivered content business. But its brick and-mortar business is dead.

I have no idea whether this prediction is true, but commercial landlords can take action to protect themselves (not merely from Blockbuster but from any commercial tenant that might disappear or declare bankruptcy).

There remain numerous Blockbuster locations in Central Pennsylvania. Some have closed over the past few years, including one in Hampden Township and one in Silver Spring Township. Numerous other commercial tenants have abandoned their properties or declared bankruptcy since the real estate bubble began its collapse.

The most important concept for a commercial landlord to remember in a tenant bankrtuptcy is to keep on top of the time limitations set by the bankruptcy code. The bankruptcy code requires the tenant either to make arrangments for full payment of all past due arrearages or to abandon the property within a set time limit. But these provisions do not enforce themselves. The landlord must file motions with the bankruptcy court to ensure that the tenant either pays or leaves. Otherwise, the tenant might remain in the property indefinitely without paying rent.

Future posts here will explain those time limitations and provide guidance.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Dauphin County Housing Authority; Section 8 vouchers; 2,000 new applications.

The Dauphin County Housing Authority began accepting applications for vouchers today for the first time since 2006. The Authority expects about 2,000 applicants for "Section 8" rental vouchers through July 23rd.

The Section 8 program provides rent subsidies and vouchers for tenant-applicants, who in turn spend the vouchers on qualified private landlords.

That the Authority has not accepted applications since 2006 reflects a shortage of qualified and interested landlords willing to take part in the Section 8 program and subject themselves to HUD regulations.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Urban farming in Pittsburgh; Grow Pittsburgh; Urban farming as a motivator for urban relocation/consolidation.

From today's Pittsburgh Post-Gazette comes a story that might predict the future of urban planning across the country:
The urban farm -- a novel, even whimsical, idea a few years ago in Pittsburgh -- is now a movement so fully fledged that a neighborhood without one seems almost an anomaly.

The movement has gone beyond mere small backyard gardens:
Grow Pittsburgh's sites include the Larimer Farm and Gardens, a quarter acre at Larimer Avenue and Mayflower Street; Lawrenceville Gardens at Allegheny Cemetery, about 150 square feet; and a garden the size of four city lots on Lincoln Avenue in Lemington called Higher Ground Community Garden.

The above list is in addition to a 3/4 acre lot in Braddock and others throughout Pittsburgh. What makes this trend significant is the nationwide nature of the movement and the near-utopian vision of its proponents (as I noted in March):
Near downtown, fruit trees and vegetable farms would replace neighborhoods that are an eerie landscape of empty buildings and vacant lots. Suburban commuters heading into the city center might pass through what looks like the countryside to get there. Surviving neighborhoods in the birthplace of the auto industry would become pockets in expanses of green.
(citing the Washington Times discussing Detroit)

The Post-Gazette article cites examples in other major cities.

The urban farming movement is rapidly taking shape as the motivator behind the urban relocation/consolidation movement nationwide. If urban farming takes root in conjunction with municipal efforts to destroy rundown neighborhoods and relocate (and consolidate) residents, the movement will be one of many factors at the center of legal battles over eminent domain, title and environmental issues. Food crops will not be the only things growing out of the ground in urban areas.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Record low mortgage rates and sales; National Association of Realtors data.

Mortgage rates are at an all time low, but there are few borrowers even at these low rates. This report supports prior data from the National Association of Realtors that reveals a record drop in sales contracts in May.

These conditions will prevail until prices are allowed to fall (or another (even larger) massive round of inflationary stimulus spending takes place, destabilizing our currency much worse than we have already seen).

Previous - glut of available real estate for sale.

Monday, July 5, 2010

June real estate listings and collapsing real estate sales

Real estate listings in Central Pennsylvania are at an all-time high.

I do not subscribe to, but Realtor Ann Wright has provided to me figures for the end of June from that multi-list service. According, as of June 30, 2010 (the numbers change slightly from day-to-day), there were 5,489 listings in Central Pennsylvania. (This includes, York, Cumberland, Dauphin, Lebanon, Perry, Lancaster and parts of Adams and Juniata counties). This number is higher than at any point since such statistics were compiled.

Of those 5,489 listings, reports that only 1,001 are currently the subject of a pending sales agreement.

This large volume of listings places great downward pressure on prices. This information is consistent with recent reports of collapsing sales nationwide and in the northeast region.

Thanks to Ann Wright at Re/Max for her assistance. Anyone with related information or personal experiences are invited to e-mail me.

Ann Wright