Sunday, November 30, 2008

On The Front Lines On Election Day, A Report From South Minneapolis

Photo By John Hoff

Jeff Skrenes had some interesting stories about Election Day, and I finally convinced him to write all that stuff down in an email, for the historical record...or, for that matter, any investigation which might happen into voting irregularities in Minnesota in light of the Coleman/Franken recount...

Here is Jeff's firsthand account, from an email dated November 24.

I went to the Walker Methodist Church in South Minneapolis on Election Day. I had done a fair amount of doorknocking already in my own North Minneapolis neighborhoods, but since I speak fluent Spanish, I felt that was potentially more needed in South Minneapolis on Election Day.

My role was to go around to various polling places and see if there were long lines and/or problems, then call back to the DFL station at teh church and report what was going on. From there, I would try to make sure folks in line had what they needed in order to register and vote, as well as keeping their spirits up so they wouldn't leave without voting.

Also, we were to watch what the Republican and Democratic challengers were doing and call back to notify people if there were illegitimate challenges happening.

I arrived at a polling place on 22nd and 1st in South Minneapolis and the line was literally snaking around the block. I found some other DFL volunteers who did not really know how to respond to this. Here's why the place had such problems: The area had a large number of college students and immigrants, leading to many people who were not registered at the polling place. Since it was a prime area for first-time voters as well, a fair amount of people were standing in line with inadequate documentation.

To compound matters, the polling place did not have enough voter registration cards. We all read in the papers about reports that some Minneapolis polling places ran out of cards. I'm sure this was one such place those allegations referenced. They never 100 percent "ran out," but because they were so low, they did not allow volunteers to take cards outside and register people in line.

So for quite a while, there wasn't much we could do other than walk up and down the line talking to people and trying to make sure they had what they needed. While doing this, I went up to a person whom I found out later was a Republican challenger. I asked what rules I needed to follow in terms of who I talked to, where, and what I said.

He asked what organization I represented and I said I was there on behalf of the DFL. He then told me I could not come closer than 100 feet away from the property line of the polling place.

Not true. I can be 100 feet away from the ENTRANCE.

He told me I could not talk to people in line.

Again, not true. As long as I am not harassing people, I can talk to anyone in line, and as long as I am past the 100 feet rule, I can talk about pros and cons of candidates or ballot issues.

This is just one example of how it seemed to me that Republicans wanted to suppress voting instead of upholding the rules. I did comply with what he said about the 100 feet rule, only because the lines were so long, anyway, that I could talk to folks well before they got that close.

Finally, enough voter registration cards arrived that they could allow volunteers to get people registered while waiting in line. So I went inside the polling place and picked up a stack of cards. With a few volunteers going through the line and getting folks registered, the pace really picked up. Also, once I had those cards in my hand and it was clear to the Republican challengers that I was there primarily to help the voting process, they warmed up to me a little.

One technicality: A lot of people brought their leases as proof of residence. A lease without supporting documentation such as a current ID or utility bills matching the address is not sufficient to register. So when I came across such people in line, I said to them, "The lease isn't enough to register, but your neighbors in line can VOUCH for you. So if the lease is enough to convince them that you live in the precinct, have them vouch for you and you're all set."

Minnesota has great laws that allow voters to make their voice heard.

There was also a guy who was either drunk, high, or had some mental issues, who was going up and down the line yelling derogatory thigns about McCain and Palin. While I agreed with some of the comments, it was clear he was violating some rules and making many voters uncomfortable. So I went to the Republican challengers and asked if they would escort the man off the premises, which they did.

The fact that a DFLer asked Republicans to uphold rules even perhaps to our own detriment won me MAJOR points with the GOP challenger crew.

(Johnny Northside aside: Oh, Jeff, how nice. Maybe they won't shoot tear gas at you)

I stayed and registered people until almost 8 PM before joining up with (Johnny Northside) to celebrate the Democratic victory. That's my election day story.

A Party In 2207 4th St. N., A Condemned House

Photo By A Citizen Volunteer

This blog post is a preview. I do not yet have full details, though I was provided a cell phone picture by a citizen volunteer...

Full details will come soon and will be posted here. This is what I know from a phone call:

Last night, graffiti appeared on the boards over 2207 4th St. N, a condemned house. The graffiti apparently alludes to a particular gang. It is my blog's policy not to mention gangs by name, but the graffiti speaks for itself. This house should not be confused with 2207 SIXTH Street North, which I have blogged about several times in the past.

Police were called to 2207 4th St. N. because of the noise of the party and because one ASSUMES (perhaps wrongly) there is some kind of law against having a party in a condemned house. If people were supposed to be there, it wouldn't be condemned. It was observed that lamps were carried into the house.

Police arrived and made the party quiet down shortly after 10 PM, but did not make gang members leave the condemned house. At about 1 or 2 in the morning, the party got noisy again. Overnight, a boarded-up house which presented no problems to surrounding homes has turned into a scary gang party house.

I was asked to blog about the matter, and I said I would. I'm awaiting further details by email and hopefully more pictures. In the meantime, the graffiti on the house is a straight up violation and 311 has been notified.

It is believed the ownership of the house may have changed hands recently, but we have no confirmation of that right now. There is an open permit for a Code Compliance Certificate from April of this year, and the current owner is listed as "Ying Vang."

Criminally Inclined "Winterization Crew?" (A Story From Jeff Skrenes)

Photo By John Hoff, for illustration only

I felt a lot better about calling 911 on the rough-looking "winterization crew" (previous story, click here) after Jeff told me this epic tale, which I am including pretty much as he sent it, liquor-longing asides and everything...

In an email dated November 25, 2008, Jeff says:

Here's my story:

I received a series of phone calls from my ex towards the end of the day at work. My standard operating procedure is to ignore these calls as much as possible, although curiosity often gets the best of me. I want to see how badly she's screwed up her life, and I'm rarely disappointed in that regard. I think the German word is Schadenfruede.

Well, the phone calls just did not stop, which is a surefire sign something rather spectacularly bad is happening. I checked the voice mail, and I hear:

"There's an emergency at the house."

John, I have a headache just writing about this crap. Just so you know.

(John replies: Jeff, your personal sacrifice is not in vain. This story about an unsavory "winterization crew" is valuable to the community. Suck it up and soldier on)

Reluctantly, (knowing at least I'll get a surreal story to regale others over a beer) I called her back. It turns out there were two men from Safeguard Properties (219-739-2900 if anyone wants to call and inquire about what happened at 644 Como Avenue in St. Paul) who were there to secure and winterize the property.

A bit of history, here: we separated at the height of the market, right before the crash. By my estimate, if we had sold the house right then, we would have walked away splitting $70,000. Instead, she insisted on staying there and keeping the house, with me getting a portion of the equity as per the divorce decree. With prices where they are, now, I doubt I'd have seen any money even under ideal circumstances. But she was set to remarry and a month before the new wedding, her fiance walked away, leaving her with one income to support a 2-income house. So she walked away and let it go into foreclosure.

So I am actually OK with the mortgage company sending people to secure the place and winterize it. Goodness knows we could use that kind of preventative action more often in North Minneapolis. There are, however, two things wrong with this picture:

1.) first, there has been no sheriff sale, so nobody should be changing locks without making sure I, as an owner, have a key. I would gladly give that key back once ownership is fully out of my name.

2.) And second, the two men had moved some boxes from the attic down into the livingroom. These were boxes that contained my ex-stepdaughter's porcelain dolls, which could probably fetch a nice sum.

My ex showed up to get the last of her things while they were rummaging through the place. After they identified themselves, without any further prompting, they said, "We didn't take anything" and "You can look through the boxes and see it's all there" and "The wedding dress in the attic looks like it's worth a lot of money."

My ex said they couldn't even look her in the eye.

This is how much of a mortgage nut I am. I couldn't help but dig deeper, regardless of how much the scenario made me want to grab a mixed drink of Jack and Pepto. I was compelled to call Safeguard and get to the bottom of this.

They informed me they had been given work orders by the mortgage company (Aurora Loan Services) to put new locks on the place and winterize it. They were nice enough to put in a request to the mortgage company for authorization to send me the new keys.

When I told them about what the two people had clearly done with the personal items, they said that no orders or authorization had been given to go through or remove personal items and "They know this." The only exception, they said, was if personal items in the house were creating a hazard and needed to be moved to make the place safer, i.e. paint or gasoline or what-have-you stored next to a furnace.

The operator at Safeguard said she was going to look into whether these two guys were direct employees or sub-contractors. If they were sub-contractors, they wouldn't be called back for another job.

(John chimes in: well, better investigate to make sure they didn't steal anything at the other jobs, too)

If they were direct employees, they would be subject to disciplinary action, "up to and including suspension or termination."

(John says: Well, I sense one of those "he said, she said" situations coming on)

There you have it. I know I owe you for getting those other policy-heavy stories up there on short notice (click here) (and here) but this still feels to me like you owe me a beer.

(John replies: You had a bunch of free booze at Jeannie Hoholik's house when I got us all invited there for Thanksgiving so...we're even)

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Incident At 2214 Lyndale Ave. N. (Follow Up Report)


Photos By John Hoff

Several days ago I blogged about the rough-looking characters I saw cleaning out the house at 2214 Lyndale Ave. N., and how I called the police because it didn't look right, and how one of the guys didn't cooperate as quickly as he should have, and found himself taken down to the ground. Click here to read that old blog post.

Well, here is (as Paul Harvey would say) THE REST OF THE STORY...

Some days ago I was driving around on 4th St. N. near Farview Park when I saw a couple guys on the porch of a long-vacant house, once again fooling around with the front door. I recognized the guys...the same two characters from the incident at 2214 Lyndale Ave. N.

Well, since they were running around loose and doing the same exact stuff, I figured maybe they really were doing some halfway legitimate work, even if they looked like a couple of no-account house thieves there to literally steal the kitchen sink.

So I figured this time, before calling the police, I'd manage to get the license plate of their vehicle...unlike before...and I'd stick my nose into matters even FURTHER because I'm like that.

So I cruised around the block, slowly, got the plate number, and then parked right behind their vehicle. I acted like I had just finished talking into my phone, maybe calling the police.

I could tell the one guy ("Fat Boy") had seen me. He was on his precious phone, again. Calling the person known as "honey," I figured.

I opened my van door and stood nearby, the vehicle still running, ready to get back inside if necessary. My vehicle is my best weapon. I've discussed this before.

"So are you putting a deadbolt in THIS ONE, too?" I asked.

The older guy took one look at me and went ambling down the sidewalk, leaving. The other guy (Fat Boy) walked over, carefully, cell phone in hand.

"We're winterizing," he explained. "Who are you?"

I told him who I was. I told him this was my neighborhood, and we watch the houses around here "like hawks," and so when we see somebody going up to a house, cleaning it out, we want to know what's up.

We had an intense discussion, at times both of us speaking over the other. He handed me the cell phone and told me to talk to the guy on the other end, who identified himself as a local real estate agent named "Johnson." (Yes, he gave me a first name, too)

Johnson complimented me on my determination to protect the neighborhood--after all, this very house had the pipes stolen, he said, making the "winterizing" task of the crew he sent rather besides the point, but all the same. Johnson said the mortgage company in possession of the house was "breaking (his) balls" to get the "damn place winterized." So that's why he'd sent the crew over on short notice, to get it done.

I told Johnson his "winterizing crew" didn't look like much; they had no company vehicle, no jackets or hats identifying them as...anything. What were we in the neighborhood supposed to do or think when we saw such rough-looking individuals pull up to a vacant house and pry on the front door with--for god's sake--a Phillips screw driver? Should we take the word of a guy on a cell phone?

I said, "Tell you what. I'll make a deal with you." I said I'd take a picture of his crew. That way, if there were any questions, well, I'd have some documentation about who was at the house. Paul agreed. Fair enough. I snapped the picture. The other guy had, as I said, toddled off the minute he saw me coming.

After that, me and "Fat Boy" got into a discussion, again. He was rather incensed about what he'd endured from the police. I told him if he'd stopped talking on the phone when the officer gave him directions, things would have happened a lot differently. "Fat Boy" then told me the officer had called him a "white peckerwood." He said he'd "get paid" for what had happened.

"I was standing right there," I said. "I don't remember anything like that being said."

"I thought you said you were a block away when you called!" he snapped.

"When I called 911, yes," I clarified. "But when the cop took you down, I was standing right there. Heck, I saw your belly pop out of your t-shirt. No such thing was said. I'll be that officer's witness."

I told "Fat Boy" he should get something identifying himself as a workman doing legitimate work. Some kind of jacket, perhaps. I pointed to my own jacket which says "CRI Remodels, Inc." I didn't bother to mention I'd literally found it on the street a year ago, but that would only drive home my point: if I can get a jacket which (accidentally) makes me look "workmanlike" by scrounging one off the street, "Fat Boy" could easily make himself look more legitimate.

I also learned there really had been a couple guys with a truck, cleaning the place out. "Fat Boy" said they didn't do a good job, and he made them come back later.

Decent enough work if you can get it: getting paid to clean out the house, then making more profit by selling the items you "clean out" of the house. Twice I've worked for "affordable housing" rental property companies, and I always enjoyed "cleaning out" apartments, particularly the freezers where steaks and shrimp were, often enough, simply abandoned. I abhor waste, and I value conservation of the earth's resources over black-and-white lines about who owns what. Sometimes, I assert, ownership is gray.

But, all the same, some of these "winterization" crews clearly are a rough bunch, and legal lines get crossed. Jeff Skrenes sent me a story about THAT, which I'll share in the next blog post.

In any case, despite their rough appearance, and something of an attitude problem dealing with police trying to protect our homes, these guys apparently are some kind of freelance, seat-of-the -pants, won't-break-your-budget "winterization crew." Calling 911 on them was what you might call "friendly fire."

I admit it. It was the wrong call. People tell me I made the right call and what was I supposed to do? There were, all told, FOUR OF THEM AT LEAST cleaning out that house at 2214 Lyndale Ave. N. Was I supposed to saunter up and ask "What the heck?"

I hate it when that happens. But what can I do? I have to shake it off. I'm not going to let North Minneapolis houses get robbed of copper if I'm standing right there with a cell phone. And the story Jeff told me a few days ago (next blog post) confirms some of these "winterization crews" aren't completely honest.

What?! No Water At "Water World?"


Photos By John Hoff

I was driving around with Jeannie Hoholik of Keller Williams Realty, when I noticed something odd at 406 30th Ave. N....

Oh, my word, could it be...a utility shut-off notice? Common enough in North Minneapolis, yes, but here's the rich irony: this is the house I dubbed "Water World" because of a rather dramatic story I heard from a real estate agent about copper pipes ripped out...the entire basement being flooded, then FROZEN SOLID.

But this summer "406" was completely renovated, albeit with some corners cut. Check out the paint job, above. I'd call this a "Stupid North Minneapolis Home Repair" but the standard for that is high and hard, and it's difficult for something as minor and mundane as a bad paint job to qualify.

In any case...no water at Water World. Huh.

What next, blood and toads from the sky?!!!!!

3306 James Ave. N. (Cute Starter Home With A Colorful History, PART TWO)





Photos By John Hoff

Here are a few more pictures I snapped at 3306 James Ave. N., at the end stage of its dramatic renovation...

From top to bottom, 1.) a more casual portrait of Tom, the contractor. He didn't see this one coming, so he looks more natural.

2.) Detail of the "keystone" feature over the front door. This was a golden opportunity for me to pontificate about the importance of the keystone to human history, because being able to support weight on stone arches allowed bigger buildings to be constructed, buildings which became important centers of religious and political administration. Though other construction methods have (mostly) surpassed the use of vaulted arches, one still sees decorative allusions and homages to the importance of the "keystone" in human history, as here at 3306 James Ave. N.

Given its central role as the first "special supervision" T.J. Waconia house to be renovated, 3306 James Ave. N. is indeed playing a kind of "keystone" role. This house shows it is possible to purchase and renovate these houses, and the bureaucratic hoops are not so difficult for QUALIFIED RENOVATORS with no history of being SLUMLORDS.

3.) Jeanie showing how open and airy the basement is, now that all the old partitions have been ripped out. I notice Jeannie's footwear is rather similar to what Connie Nompelis wears. Is this a real estate agent thing?

Note the copper pot hanging on the wall. I think it might be covering an old furnace hole, but the use of COPPER as a North Minneapolis basement decorative motif is an interesting trend.

4.) New plastic pipe. Sigh. See, this is why people will have to decorate their basements with objects made of copper.

5.) The old birdhouse in the back yard of 3306 James Ave. N., still awaiting renovation.

3306 James Ave. N. (Cute Starter Home With A Colorful History, PART ONE)


Photos By John Hoff

Knowing my obsession with the T.J. Waconia mortgage fraudsters--who will apparently be sentenced to prison next month--Keller Williams real estate agent Jeanie Hoholik gave me a private tour of 3306 James Ave. N., which is nearly renovated and will be listed any minute, now...

I blogged about this home before, because it's the first of the houses sold under special court- mandated supervision, and now it's probably the first one to be re-sold or, well, "flipped."

And some people say the era of "flipping" is over. Not in North Minneapolis, baby! I hear lovely Jennifer The Flipper just made offers on two more houses, one in the Jordan neighborhood and one in Folwell. You go, girl!

Though flipping has a bad name, (only lately) I'll defend what Jennifer is doing: she's turning vacant houses into owner-occupied properties. In this case, the house at 3306 James Ave. N. used to be a rental...and kind of a sad one, though luckily set amidst nicer homes and right across from a training facility for the Minneapolis Fire Department. But now "3306" is cute as a button on a baby's belly.

The Real Estate Equivalent Of A Politician's Dark Blue Necktie

A contractor named "Tom" has been working on the place, and he's not partial to having his picture taken. Above, you can see Tom pulling out his hammer to express how he feels about portrait photography. Tom prefers to have his work speak for him. I had seen the "before" pictures, which I hesitate to even link to because THE CHANGE IS SO DRAMATIC. Everything is light, new, airy, polished, painted.

Jeanie taught me a few things about flipping as we toured the house. For starters, flipping a house is kind of like dressing a politician: you don't go with a quirky tie. You need something everybody can agree looks good. So there's a certain popular shade of floor tile, and counter top. Young buyers are apparently partial to polished steel fridges. Who knew? From walls, to carpet, to trim, everything caters to a moderate aesthetic.

Two bathrooms. That's the rule. That's what buyers want. So give it to them.

I noticed Jennifer's contractors were using plastic water pipe, blue for cold and red for hot. Gone are the days of copper pipes, sigh. It's sad, really. But the new pipe looked good.

Out in the yard, I noticed the shingles on the garage looked new. I turned around and realized...same shingles on the house. Also new. Black, of course. Nothing quirky with the shingles, like green "Timberline" brand. Nothing that looks like a patchwork quilt, to be creative and use old, multi-colored shingles; like a certain relative of mine has been known to inflict on farm buildings.

Clues To The "Past Life" Of 3306 James Ave. N.

If you know where to look, clues can be found about what the house was before...a rental, possibly with other rentals within it, people piled in thickly, shoved into corners.

The basement had been full of partitions, which had to be ripped out. Jeannie had seen what was there before and was thankful it was gone now, except for a few old marks on the floor which I suspected would get painted over. A big, run-down doghouse in the back yard was gone, too, except for a place where sod was missing.

I could blame T.J. Waconia, but I suspect they acquired the house like that, and had little opportunity to renovate and rent before the pyramid scheme came crashing down. But Jeanie thought it was just fine to blame T.J. Waconia, and good clean fun, too. When I pointed out the birdhouse in the back yard was wrecked, Jeanie said to blame T.J. Waconia.

"Seriously," I said. "That birdhouse is missing walls. It needs to be fixed."

"Let the birds fix it," Jeanie said. "Let them patch it with mud."

Well, I decided, maybe it was kind of cool to leave the old birdhouse as it was. After such a dramatic renovation of the house, few clues would be left of the past for the next owners to enjoy and contemplate. But the run-down birdhouse was an exception. Yes, I realized, let it be. Leave it for the next owner to lovingly renovate, as a kind of quirky personal project, or tear it down to assert domination and ownership of the back yard while the wife (of course) has control over all interior aspects.

Johnny Birdhouse

If it were up to me, I'd put birdhouses everywhere in North Minneapolis. I'd spend all day sneaking into the back yards of vacant, boarded-up homes, sneaking bird houses into the trees. I'd be "Johnny Birdhouse." Where would I get the birdhouses? Salvation Army. Or I'd build them myself, from old antique basement doors chewed on the bottom by vicious, neglected pit bulls, from odds and ends of wood, or from gallon-sized cans with kicky painted-on product motifs like Folgers Coffee.

Too bad I have other things to do, like blog. Oh, well. I can make sure any property which falls under my control has adequate birdhouses. I can advocate for the renovation of birdhouses, and appreciation for barn swallows, the official bird of North Minneapolis. (According to my blog)

Something Like 139 T.J. Waconia Houses Left To Go!

So that's one T.J. Waconia house down and...well, there are more. There are more houses to be bought, flipped, turned into lovely starter homes. GET 'EM WHILE THE GETTIN' IS GOOD, I SAY!

North Minneapolis is TURNING AROUND. I hear (secondhand, through Jeannie Hoholik) it's actually becoming difficult for Jenny The Flipper to find flipping bargains, because the properties are being snapped up.

This is both good news and bad news. Clearly, the current era won't last forever, and not for anybody: flippers, home buyers, home sellers, barn swallows that currently have endless expanses of vacant buildings in which to breed. History marches forward faster than I can write about its footsteps.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Two Mortgage Experts Debate The "North Minneapolis ARMs Defense Plan"

Photo By John Hoff

When Jeff Skrenes asked me to publicize an  innovative new program to get out ahead of ARM mortgages, click here, I had no idea the plan might be the least little bit controversial. Honestly, when Jeff starts talking about the nitty gritties of mortgages (as he so often does) I pull the same act I once used on my ex-wife when she began going on about her arcane forensic accounting triumphs...I smile faintly, maintain eye contact, nod from time to time, throw out a few phrases like, "Oh, really?"

But it turns out some folks are actually, really, totally INTO this issue, including Alex Stenback of Behind The Mortgage Dot Com...

As a few truly obsessed Johnny Northside readers may know, Johnny Northside was "born" on a particularly hot chat thread of Behind The Mortgage Dot Com, where I first used that name. There it was on BTM that I gained my special superhero blogging powers to fight evil and revitalize my neighborhood, when the chat thread began to radiate a strange, other-worldly energy from the psychic force of the conflict surrounding T.J. Waconia.

So it's always kind of cool to touch base with the blogmeister of BTM, Alex Stenback. Since the subject was mortgage nitty-gritties, I casually sent a link to Alex.

Alex replied with a 7 point discussion.

Holy cow, I thought, Jeff might find this interesting. So I forwarded it, because, well, SOMEBODY should find mortgages interesting, and that person is usually Jeff but, obviously, it's also Alex.

In a short while, Jeff replied with a 7 point reply/rebuttal; sent to me but cc'd to Alex.

How quickly an "ARMs plan" turns into "ARMed conflict."

Some people--and I'm not going to name names, here, but it's not just Alex and Jeff--are incredibly interested in this issue, and tuned in to this debate. So I'm going to print Alex Stenback's 7 points, and Jeff's 7 counter-points. If these two mortgage-obsessed geeks want to continue the discussion, they can use the comment threads.

Get your popcorn. Here's the ARMs PLAN BOXING MATCH between Jeff Skrenes and Alex Stenback.

ALEX STENBACK SAYS: In order for these people "trapped" in ARMs to get any relief, they'll need to have equity in their homes. No equity mostly means no refinance/modification. Only way to determine this will be via appraisal, at a cost. You might find an appraiser who can give you a bulk discount to speed the process of sorting through "help-able" people.

JEFF SKRENES REPLIES: I can't say for sure how foreclosure prevention counselors at agencies such as ACORN Housing and Twin Cities Habitat for Humanity get around the equity issue. However, I am 100 percent positive that they do not obtain appraisals in the vast majority of the loan modifications they get from lenders. Determining equity is helpful, and appraisers may come in handy if we need to start talking about principal reduction to market levels. But mass appraisals are not a necessary component for mass modifications.

ALEX STENBACK SAYS: An assumption that the fact that they have an ARM automatically means that they are A.) in distress, B.) will be facing an upward payment adjustment, is far from a no-brainer. Many AARMs of the vintage you discuss are adjusting down (short term/index rates are very, very low right now) or to something resembling (within 100 to 150 basis points) the going rate for 30 year fixed rate paper. Refinancing costs money--equity, usually--so it often is not the best economic decision for them unless they have equity to burn and are facing a huge payment increase.

JEFF SKRENES REPLIES: We will be pushing for loan modifications in the majority of cases because a refinance includes closing costs and a modification usually has little to no cost. However, the "normal" way to get out of a predatory loan is to use the market (refinance).

If we can find even a few people who use that route it will help bring things back on track. Where I must significantly depart from what you write is regarding rates adjusting downward. All ARM loans have riders that set limits on how high and low the rate can go. In most subprime loans, the minimum rate is equal to the starter, or "teaser" rate.

And I don't call it a "teaser" rate for nothing. Subprime loans are usually indexed to the London Inter Bank Offered Rate (LIBOR) in such a way that no matter what the LIBOR does, the rate will almost always go up. For prime and alt-a loans, this may not be the case, but we will be putting folks in touch with certified non-profit counselors who are trained to examine what is in the best interest of their client.

ALEX STENBACK SAYS: For what it's worth, ARM's adjusting are something like the 8th item on any credible study (one by the Boston Fed comes to mind) of the causes of foreclosure. You might creditably claim that a phalanx of marriage counselors would keep more people in homes.

JEFF SKRENES: (Made no reply)

ALEX STENBACK SAYS: Many of the ARM borrowers you are targeting will not have the credit quality for a refinance or modification (even acceptable credit risk modified loans re-default at a 50 percent clip, by the way)

JEFF SKRENES REPLIES: That number depends on what gets considered as a modification. I've seen "modifications" where someone in a loan with a rate that adjusts every six months gets a one-year freeze on the rate. WELL OF COURSE that is going to result in a re-default.

I don't have re-default rates at my fingertips for our primary counseling services, but it's something I'll look into. As far as where ARM resets rank, I agree that there are other factors that can be more pressing, such as medical issues, job loss, and divorce. But North Minneapolis has historically been redlined and has not received the same kind of credit other communities get.

In the mortgage boom, we were "green lined" and given grossly inappropriate loan products. In 2006, 64 percent of purchase loans and 58 percent of purchase loans to African-Americans were subprime. Almost all subprime loans were ARMs.

Sixty percent of those recipients qualified for a better product at the time of closing. Even with those stats, I was surprised to see how many more North Minneapolis folks cited job loss as the reason for their default.

However, the data clearly shows that our communities deserved better than what they got. We can't track house-by-house whose marriage is at risk, or who is losing their job, but we can do this for ARM resets. And speaking from my own personal experience as a divorcee--

JOHNNY NORTHSIDE INTERJECTS: Oh, good lord, I knew THIS was coming when Jeff just brooded in silence while Alex said something about "a phalanx of marriage counselors."

JEFF SKRENES: --and a recipient of a subprime loan, the bad mortgage can place stress on a marriage, so it's a case of chickens and eggs in my book.

ALEX STENBACK SAYS: A door-knocking campaign like this could very well terrify homeowners--

JOHNNY NORTHSIDE INTERJECTS, LIKE A SMART ALEK: No, it's the people who DON'T knock on your door but come inside your house ANYWAY who terrify us in North Minneapolis.

ALEX STENBACK CONTINUES: My advice would be to focus on informing people what the terms of the ARM are, what the payemtns will adjust to, how, and when. Maybe I mistake the tone, but this whole things looks a little like anybody with an ARM is going to be treated like a gunshot victim in need of an emergency transfusion. I think that would be counterproductive.

JEFF SKRENES REPLIES: I have spent years doing this kind of work and know how to approach at-risk homeowners in such a way that it won't "terrify" them, and I am quite capable of training others to do the same. Our partner agencies have folks doing this who are better than I am at such tactics. To the few who would be "terrified" regardless, if we're bringing the ARM situation to the forefront, it's not counter-productive.

Many ARM recipients were told by their broker that they have a fixed rate, so I am sure we'll come across a fair number of people who honestly had no idea what their mortgage terms were.

ALEX STENBACK SAYS: You should not throw these people back into the ARMs (no pun intended) of lenders that got them into or bought their toxic loans--

JOHNNY NORTHSIDE POINTS OUT: You capitalized "ARMs," Alex. Clearly, the pun WAS intended. Let's try to have a good clean fight, here, and keep those ARMs above the belt.

ALEX STENBACK CONTINUES: Assemble a cadre of good, honest loan officers who are willing to work with the subject borrowers on a one-to-one basis. As satisfying as it may be to try shaming the current lenders publically into "dealing with these loans" the only course of action they will take is whatever is likely to result in the least loss for them, IF there is any loss at all.

JEFF SKRENES REPLIES: The first contacts for the borrowers will be non-profit foreclosure prevention counselors. I spent six years in the mortgage industry, so I know who the good guys and bad guys are, and public shaming is certainly not my first route--

JOHHNY NORTHSIDE SULKS LOUDLY.

JEFF SKRENES CONTINUES: --However, we're beyond the point where we can afford to play nice with those who are responsible for this crisis and I am proud of my track record of successfully using public shaming as a way to bring about benefits for individuals and communities.

JOHNNY NORTHSIDE BRIGHTENS UP CONSIDERABLY.

ALEX STENBACK: I will reiterate that adjusting ARMs are far down the list of foreclosure causes.

JEFF SKRENES: And I will refer you back to my response.

JOHNNY NORTHSIDE: (Doing a bad Howard Cossell imitation) Both of these fighters are exhausted, and just trying to run down the clock while keeping their ARMs in front of their faces, both hoping for a points victory from the judges.

And there's the final bell!

Good job, gentlemen. You really should take your little show on the road.

ADDENDUM: Alex Stenback says, by email, Jeff and him have a lot of common ground. He also points out "your instigator is showing."

Monday, November 24, 2008

IMPORTANT BLOG EXCLUSIVE: Minnesota Housing Finance Agency's Draft NSP Plan Will Hurt Neighborhoods, And Fails To Comply With Federal Law

Photo By John Hoff

Once again calling upon the Johnny Northside blog to quickly spread information about a critical situation in our neighborhoods, Hawthorne Housing Director Jeff Skrenes has asked me to make the following public as soon as possible...

The headline on this blog post is my summary of the situation. The rest of the information comes verbatim from Jeff Skrenes, via email, and also from a letter forwarded by Jeff. The letter was written by Jerry Moore, Executive Director of the Jordan Area Community Council, Hawthorne's sister neighborhood on the other side of Emerson Ave. N.

First, the letter from Moore, as follows:

November 21, 2008
To: Dan Bartholomay, Tonja Orr
Minnesota Housing Finance Agency
400 Sibley Street, Suite 300
St. Paul, MN 55101

Re: Failure of MHFA draft NSP plan to comply with federal law; An alternative allocation which complies with federal law provides the central cities with an additional $9 million

Ladies and Gentlemen:

It is no secret Jordan Neighborhood along with many other urban communities have been the hardest hit by the foreclosure crisis. In the past, opportunities have surpassed us for various reasons. Currently, we are faced yet again with a federal resource that could provide substantial relief from our homeowner's crisis; however it is my understanding we are being overlooked for adequate funding.

The Neighorhood Stabilization Program (NSP) Draft Substantial Amendment made available by MHFA on November 7 misdirects at least $9 million of this important resource away from areas of greatest need in the central cities and fails to meet the statutory and regulatory requirements of the program in a number of important ways, thus jeopardizing NSP funding for the state.

It is clear to me that we cannot afford to sit idle on this issue in hopes appropriate allocations will be made. This is a prime opportunity for community and governmental partners to join forces to assure an equitable amount of resource is allocated to the 55411 zip code. In order to achieve this goal we must first be fully aware of what we are up against. The following information highlights in detail areas of concern.

1.) Failure to distribute funds to areas of greatest need

The federal statute requires that a state in distributing NSP funds "shall...give priority emphasis and consideration to those...areas with the greatest need." The statute provides that "areas with the greatest need" include those with the highest concentrations of home foreclosures and subprime loans. Similarly, the HUD regulations for the NSP program require that the state application identify the geographic areas of greatest need and demonstrate how its proposed distribution of funds will meet the statutory requirement that the funds be distributed to areas of greatest need.

It is clear that MHFA, in developing its proposal for distribution of its NSP funds, has failed to base its decisions on the factors required by the statute and regulations and has instead relied on factors which tend to obviate the federal "greatest need" requirement.

In effect, the MHFA has adopted a "slightly above average need" allocation formula rather than directing funds to areas of "greatest need" as required by federal law.

a.) Intentional diversion of funds from areas of greatest need

The first step in the MHFA's distribution plan is to rank zip codes by a weighted average of the statutory factors set out in the the statute (rate of foreclosures, subprime loans, defaults) compared to the weighted average for the state as a whole. The MHFA then includes in the priority area calculation 120 zip codes which have weighted average rates of problems which need be only slightly higher than then state average. (125% of state average)

Thus the MHFA's analysis starts by considering appropriate factors, but discarding the notion of "greatest need." The distribution calculation effectively allocates state NSP funds to each of these areas, many of which cannot reasonably be characterized as having the "greatest need."

The MHFA is quite open about this. The application states that the 120 zip codes were chosen in part on two factors that are not simply irrelevant to, but actually contradict the "greatest need" requirement: 1.) assuring that at least 50% of the state's subprime foreclosures are included. This consideration virtually assures dispersion of scarce federal resources away from areas of greatest need, 2.) "Balancing the distribution of funds between the Twin Cities metro area and Greater Minnesota." This consideration is obviously irrelevant to distribution of funds to areas of greatest need.

By replacing the "greatest need" requirement with what amounts to an "above average need," the state has diverted millions from low income minority areas devastated by irresponsible lending practices. There are no neighborhoods similarly affected by the foreclosure crisis outside of the central cities and two adjacent suburbs.

b.) An alternative which does comply with federal law allocates $9 million more to central cities

Attached as Exhibit 1 (not here included on this blog) are two spreadsheets illustrating the result of an allocation procedure which follows the proposed MHFA methodology exactly, except that it limits allocation of state NSP funds to zip codes with at least twice the state average concentration of problem loans (200% of the state average rather than 125%).

The first recreates the MHFA distribution spreadsheet, with the 200% cut-off; the second compares the results of this alternative allocation to that proposed by the MHFA. The result is that funds are allocated to 40 zip codes instead of 120 and an additional $9 million is allocated to the central cities.

Entitlement funds to Greater Minnesota zip codes are also increased substantially, but the competitive funds set aside in the MHFA proposal for Greater Minnesota are reduced so that Greater Minnesota has a net loss of $1.4 million. In addiction, the other competitive pools are reduced by $4.3 million and entitlement funds to metro area suburbs are reduced to $3.2 million.

2.) Failure to affirmatively further fair housing

A relatively few low income, disproportionately minority, neighborhoods have far higher rates of defaulted sub prime mortgages than any other areas of the state. See Exhibit 2 (not included on this blog) maps generated by the Institute on Race and Poverty at the University of Minnesota demonstrating the concentrations of loans held by persons of color, sub prime loans, and foreclosures in these areas.

These neighborhoods, located in the central cities and two suburbs adjacent to North Minneapolis, have been decimated by the widespread displacement of homeowners and by very high concentrations of vacant and untended homes--resulting in blight which quickly spreads to surrounding homes, destruction of the foreclosed property and by vandalism as well as lack of care by overwhelmed servicing agents, and increased opportunities for crime.

There are no other areas of the state which are so dramatically affected by irresponsible subprime lending and the foreclosure crisis and no other areas of the state where the adverse effects fall so disproportionately on minorities. Yet the MHFA has chosen to deliberately divert millinos of NSP funds, intended by Congress to address precisely these problems, to far less needy areas.

This not only runs counter to congressional intent, it violates the state's obligation under both the NSP and the CDBG legislation to act in ways which affirmatively furthers fair housing.

3. A critical clarification is needed.

Conversations with city staff working on this issue suggest that it is critical that MHFA clarify that local government proposals for MHFA funds need to propose to direct the funds to areas of greatest need, but that these areas need not be defined in precisely the way that the MHFA's allocation plan does. The MHFA has chosen to allocate funds based on the concentration of problem loans in zip codes. Needless to say, zip codes are rather blunt instruments which do not precisely track areas of greatest need.

For instance, the MHFA analysis indicates that zip code 55411 in North Minneapolis has the highest concentration of of problem loans in the state. Immediately south of 55411 is 55405, which includes a number of blocks in North Minneapolis with problems identical to those in 55411, but also includes the much more affluent Kentwood area.

It would be absurd to deny Minneapolis the ability to use NSP funds from the state in the North Minneapolis portion of 55405; just as it would be absurd to insist that Minneapolis must spend exactly the $2,482,799 allocated to 55411, no more and no less, in that zip code, rather than in that zip code and in similarly affected adjacent areas.

The MHFA allocation plan is silent on this issue and that silence appears to have many city staff convinced that areas suffering high vacancies as a result of concentrations of problem loans will be ineligible for use of state funds if not located in the zip codes used by the MHFA in allocated funds to specific governmental units.

In conclusion, I am sure you would agree sitting by idle is not going to assure an equitable amount of funding resource. Your voice is needed!

Yours truly,

Jerry Moore, Executive Director JACC

"Imperfect, But I Had No Idea HOW Imperfect"

Jeff Skrenes adds the following to Jerry's letter:

It's been in the papers recently that a whole bunch of federal money is coming to Minnesota to help communities combat the effects of the foreclosure crisis. Roughly $5.5 million will come to the City of Minneapolis and the State of Minnesota will get about $38.5 million. Some of the state money will come to Minneapolis, as well.

The public comment period for teh city money ended this morning. However, applications for the state money are not due until January 17, 2009. In all likelihod, entities such as GMHC (Greater Metropolitan Housing Corporation), Minneapolis CPED, the Home Ownership Center, and the Foreclosure Prevention Funders' Council will probably be the recipients of much of this money.

In my opinion, that's not a problem. My concern is that organizations on the front lines have a say in how that money is used. Specifically, community councils in North Minnepolis neighborhoods hardest hit, our foreclosure prevention counselors and their agencies, ACORN (I know they get a bad rap right now, but frankly who else does grassroots organizing around financial justice issues?) and the Minneapolis Urban League should be heard from as we progress. Collectively, many of these organizations are part of a coalition called the Northside Community Reinvestment Coalition.

Back to the nitty gritty of the money coming to Minnesota: This is where it helps to have two sets of eyes, and you'd be surprised who catches what. I looked at 85 pages of mortgage policy documents regarding these funds and came away thinking that we were in pretty good shape about how things were allocated. That is...until I read the letter (above) from Jerry Moore, Executive Director of our neighboring Jordan Area Community Council.

I know that federal dollars allocated as quickly as these were are often given using an imperfect system, but I had no idea how imperfect. Even so, I saw that North Minneapolis wouldn't have time to really make our voices heard regarding the initial $5.5 million. Instead, we must engage our city officials regarding who applies for the state money and what they want to do with it. And here's our opening:

When entities apply for the state funds, here is part of the application criteria:

"Neighborhood improvement Efforts. Applicants must describe existing or anticipated neighborhood improvement efforts to:

* Encourage commercial development.

* Improve safety.

* Improve schools.

* Develop and improve parks and recreation.

* Improve transportation and streets.

* Improve landscaping, sidewalks, and medians, and

* Engage citizens in neighborhood stabilization.

Take a look at that last line. ENGAGE CITIZENS IN NEIGHBORHOOD STABILIZATION. That is EXACTLY what the community councils are doing, as well as ACORN, NCRC, and others. I am not sure if it makes sense for any of us to go after this money, (though). I wouldn't discourage it, but I doubt I have the time or ability to get a viable application of this nature done by January. Instead, I think it's better for us to engage the city and others regarding what money is applied for and how it may be used.

I spoke with a city official last week about this tactic. Her initial response was that there probably wouldn't be enough time to get a huge community meeting together and then take that input and really incorporate it into the application process. I honestly don't think she was trying to get out of it; time is really of the essence, here.

So my response was that the staff of the community councils does a pretty good job understanding, articulating, and representing those community needs. And even the chance for a meeting between her department and various neighborhood staff with a chance to have an impact on the outcome would be more than we typically get.

Her response: "Set it up and I'll be there."

So where do we go from here? People who want to have input should contact Jerry Moore at Jordan Area Community Council or Jeff Skrenes at teh Hawthorne Neighborhood Council. The two of us, along with others that join along the way, will be meeting with the city shortly. We want neighborhood input and ideas that we can bring forward. Based on the criteria set forth by the state, THE CITY NEEDS OUR INPUT TO MAXIMIZE THE NECESSARY DOLLARS COMING OUR WAY!

And they are open to our ideas. But time is short. Contact us, and we'll make your voices heard!

FOR JORDAN, CALL THE JORDAN AREA COMMUNITY COUNCIL at 612-886-3202 (Jerry Moore, Executive Director)

FOR HAWTHORNE, CALL JEFF SKRENES, HOUSING DIRECTOR, at 612-529-6033 (x204)
or his cell phone at 952-210-1086.

ADDENDUM: Emails for these guys, which are much more convenient than phone calls, are as follows: jskrenes@hawthornecommunity.org, jmoore@jordanmpls.org.

I was also told by Mark Ireland, an attorney who has worked for Hawthorne on predatory lending issues, that The Housing Preservation Project sent a letter similar to the one written by Jerry Moore, and Ireland will make an attempt to obtain a copy and forward it.

IMPORTANT BLOG EXCLUSIVE: Hawthorne Neighborhood Launches Innovative Program To Assist Homeowners With Adjustable Rate Mortgages Before Reset

Photo By John Hoff

Starting December 1, 2008, volunteers will be hitting the streets and literally knocking on doors to seek out North Minneapolis homeowners in danger of losing everything to Adjustable Rate Mortgages. The effort will be part of an innovative, first in the nation program. According to...

...an email sent minutes ago by Hawthorne's Housing Director, Jeff Skrenes, which Skrenes asked to have publicized immediately to get the word out as quickly as possible, Hawthorne has received a research assistant from CURA, which is a program at the University of Minnesota, click here, for the Spring 2008 semester which--despite its name--begins in, brrrr, January.

All of the following comes from Jeff Skrenes, verbatim:

Through the Northside Community Reinvestment Coalition, a group of North Minneapolis non-profits, faith-based, and ethnic organizations working together around financial justice, we have come up with a way to identify Adjustable Rate Mortgages before they reset. The Federal Reserve has this data, but only at the zip code or census tract level. That does not help neighborhoods like Hawthorne and its North Minneapolis neighbors because we already know the problem is all around us in our zip codes and census tracts.

Credit is due to Dave Snyder of Jewish Community Action and Jerry Moore of Jordan Area Community Council for getting this idea started. Here's how it works: Hennepin County has given us spreadsheets of every mortgage originated in 2007 in the county. Then they give us the legal descriptions for each plot in various Minneapolis neighborhoods. We search by keyword and find every mortgage originated in Hawthorne in 2007. Then we take that data down to the Hennepin County government center and search those specific mortgages to find out if they are adjustable and when they are resetting. This gives us an exact address and we can reach out to the owner and/or occupant to help them with their mortgages.

We are only doing 2007 for now because many of the worst loans in North Minneapolis were 2/6 ARM loans; fixed for two years, adjusting every six months afterward. This means by the time we get the data in 2009, loans originated in 2006 and earlier will have adjusted at least twice. We're starting with the data we think will get us the most homeowners with ARMs that have not reset.

THIS IDEA CAME FROM GRASSROOTS COMMUNITY ORGANIZING AND NO ONE ELSE HAS THIS KIND OF DETAILED DATA! Actually, a lot of scammers and marketers have this data because they pay people to dig it up. But now we can get the same information and use it for good instead of evil.

So our research assistant from CURA will help us analyze this data to find patterns we may not have seen ourselves. He or she will also put this on a GIS mapping system so we can use this to present to others and show where the next ARMs are resetting. This process will also be replicable throughout Hennepin County and any other county that aggregates its mortgage data in a similar fashion.

We will be using this information to go door-to-door and talk to people before their rates reset, in anticipation that we will be able to help them out of predatory loans. We'll also be able to point to specific lenders and say, "We have hard data showing you originated loans that will soon reset in our neighborhood and that means you're responsible for helping resolve these problems now."

HERE IS WHAT WE NEED FROM PEOPLE: On Monday, December 1, we will have a press conference to kick off a week's worth of door knocking. We have identified over 350 north Minneapolis residents--so far--that have ARM loans originated in 2007. Twin Cities Habitat for Humanity has also given us addresses of residents who are late on mortgages. We will be going directly to the doors of those in need and getting them in touch with foreclosure prevention services. This will go on nightly from Monday the 1st through Thursday the 4th.

WE NEED VOLUNTEERS! Call Jeff Skrenes at the Hawthorne office (612-529-6033 x204) if you are interested.

(The Johnny Northside blog is happy to be of service and get the word out. Please pass along links to media, volunteers, impacted homeowners, and others who need to hear about this story)

ADDENDUM, DECEMBER 4, 2008: This blog post was corrected to reflect the fact lists were provided, ultimately, by Twin Cities Habitat for Humanity even though, initially, it was thought the lists would be obtained elsewhere. 

The ULTIMATE Stupid North Minneapolis Home Repair

Photo By John Hoff

Nobody is going to top THIS stupid North Minneapolis home repair, not even the guy who pioneered the practice of publicizing them on his blog....

Check it out. BULLET HOLE REPAIRED BY DUCT TAPE.

In some ways, however, this is not a Johnny Northside exclusive. Today I had the privilege of working with Jeanie Hoholik and showing her a few blogging tricks, comparing her own blog to the advantages and disadvantages of Blogspot and--just as a sample post--I wrote on her blog about the silly bullet hole repair, click here.

So Jeanie got the first round, and I got the second.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Double My Money: The Story Of Selling My House At 3016 6th St. N. (Yet More Photos)






Photos by John Hoff

Here is the last series of photos from my former house, though the house still sits there. I wonder when it will be demolished? And, hey, maybe I should go back and get some winter photos...

From top to bottom, here goes:

1.) Wild grape grew in abundance at the property, and I had dreamed of making stuffed grape leaves when the house was renovated with a working kitchen. Sigh. Oh well, it's not that hard to find grape leaves growing everywhere.

2.) Wild lilies grew in the yard, too, and (being something of a survivalist and wild foods enthusiast) I had dreamed of making fritters from the blossoms, and eating the roots, just to say I did. Sigh. Oh, well, if there's anything easier to find than grape leaves, it's probably wild lilies.

3.) My old back yard. The guy who wanted to buy the place and turn it into a low-income rental had an idea to expand the house into this yard.

4.) Mowing my lawn one last time with Peter Teachout's environmentally-friendly lawnmower. I hadn't used an old school grass whacker since I was about 12 years old. Now I remember why. The slightest twig jams them up.

Double My Money: The Story Of Selling My House At 3016 6th St. N. (More Photos)





Photos By John Hoff

Here we have, in order from top to bottom...

1.) Arg, this was a last-minute problem at my house. I came along and somebody had dumped a bunch of branches on the deck right before my closing inspection. This kind of b.s. would happen all the time in the neighborhood. One day you'd show up and, oh gee, the garbage can is just...missing.

Fortunately, good ol' Phil Kleindl was working next door on one of his properties. I seem to recall I handed Phil some cash to let me put the branches on a pile of debri he planned to haul away in the next few days.

Oh, also, I should say this: things have changed a lot in the Eco Village, and the daily b.s. factor is down considerably.

2.) Some minutes later, problem solved. Now you can see the small deck. Somebody took pride in that little deck. I bet beers were consumed there, Superbowls discussed, barbeque grilled to perfection. I had dreamed about having friends out on that deck, some time after the board visible in the background of the first picture would be transformed back into a BACK DOOR.

Le Sigh. I will have a deck somewhere else.

3.) Fridge magnets on my oven hood with no oven. I have--I kid you not--a bunch of pictures of "my life as a series of fridges." One day I plan to put together some kind of artsy-fartsy composite. But I had no fridge at 3016 6th St. N., so I took a picture of the oven hood with the fridge magnets I had accumulated, as I always accumulate fridge magnets, which I adore with the unfiltered enthusiasm of a child.

4.) Artwork from one of my young relatives which cheered me each day I was at my property.

5.) I mentioned in the previous post about my zealous commitment to recycling. This sign reminds us all: recycle housecats or other large felines. Waste not, want not. Animals are in shelters waiting to be adopted, so why would you BUY an animal from a pet store?

Note: the sign is actually from a town in Ohio, and CATS is some kind of local bus system. I spotted it while doing some commercial driving and took a picture for a friend of mine...it's kind of an in-joke.

Trust me, you don't want to know.

Double My Money: The Story Of Selling My House At 3016 6th St. N. (Photo One)

Photo By John Hoff

I've delayed telling this story for a while, because--for tedious reasons too technical to get into--I simply didn't have the photos handy. But now the images are finally in my hands, and though only a few months old, they're like a blast from the past.

And my promise to tell the story is a blast from the past, too. I'll try to be good to my word, here...

So the deal is I bought 3016 6th St. N. with the intention of fixing it up or demolishing it and--as I so blithely put it--"popping in a modular home."

A Deal With The Devil

The day before closing, I had the purchase agreement in my hand and I was out at the property dealing with an incredibly blatant case of electricity theft. A certain low-income rental property tycoon came by and chatted with me on my soon-to-be front yard. The affordable housing baron wanted to know if I owned the house and, if so, how much I had paid.

Well, I didn't want to say I merely had a PURCHASE AGREEMENT. Until the property actually changed hands, I figured somebody who came along and offered more money could get their hands on the house. So I avoided saying, explicitly, that I only had a purchase agreement. Maybe I used a nebulous phrase like "it's a done deal."

He pressed. He wanted to know what I had paid. I said I'd paid $9,500, which was the price I was getting set to pay--if memory serves me--the very next day.

When I named that price, he was BESIDE HIMSELF. Arg! How had he missed getting the property for such a price? He gestured toward 3020 6th St. N. and 3024 6th St. N., both of which he owned--more or less, there being mortgage issues--both of which he'd paid a lot for.

I assured him I'd been watching housing prices like a hawk, looking to snap up something with a low ball bid. I told him how I'd bid OVER AND OVER and had bids rejected, but finally I found a seller who was willing to play ball with me. I didn't want the poor guy to feel bad. This was way before I knew how much crack-dealing was taking place at his property, and how he either turned a blind eye to it or...or...

Well, at a minimum, he turned a blind eye.

What would I take for it? he demanded. Right here, right now, what would I sell it for?

I named the figure of $17,000 because it was the last price listed on the MLS before I bid on it, and managed to force a steep price drop. As I named my price, I was gesturing with my hand. The Devil grabbed my hand, shook it vigorously up and down, and told me I had myself a deal. He would pay $17,000, but no more.

The Accidental Flipper

Holy cats, I thought. I think I just flipped a house.

So I closed on the house. And right away, I was dealing with The Devil to resell it.

Of course, I knew The Devil's nature, but I figured I'd just sell the house and buy a better one. What did it matter, as long as I could find a better place to have visitation with my son? But right about this same time, I was becoming friends with Peter Teachout. I was trying to make my block more secure. I didn't think that nailing boards up over crackhouses to keep the crackheads out was so spectacular...it just seemed like the good sense of country boys and soldiers, both of which make up a big part of my persona. I figured if I did it, other people would take heart. In the middle of this, 612 Authentic arrived to make videos for MinnPost.

What a block. What a life. What exciting developments. I felt alive and part of things, and blogging about it the whole time.

I was told the City of Minneapolis wanted my house for their visionary "Eco Village" project. I'd moved smack dab into the middle of the Eco Village and not even known about it until after I was in the way of their backhoe. In the meantime, The Devil was taking his sweet time. He had a contractor over at the house to make some estimates. He kept negotiating terms, angling for a contract-for-deed.

A certain mover and shaker in the neighborhood--and it WAS NOT Jeff Skrenes--chatted with me on the sidewalk while a reporter for MinnPost interview some of us. We cut a deal of sorts. I said I'd sell the house to Minneapolis for what the slumlord(s) were willing to pay, which hovered near $17,000. I offered to provide an "option to buy" for $1.

"How long do you need?" I asked. "I mean, realistically?"

The answer was in months, not days or weeks. OK, I said, worrying that a backhoe would show up in my front yard before a check showed up in my hand, I'll work with you. I'll try to do the right thing, here, instead of the fast, easy and highly-profitable thing, which would have involved "closing" on the hood of a car in the parking lot of a bank, where a notary public might be found to notarize a "quit claim deed."

The Devil kept referring to such a document as a "quick" claim deed. I didn't bother correcting him. When your moral compromises are this deep, grammer be damned.

Moving At The Speed Of Government

This was when I first heard an amusing phrase: moving at the speed of government. So it took a while. It took a very long time. There was talk of having the Hawthorne Neighborhood Council cover the closing costs, since that was part of the deal: I wouldn't pay closing costs. After all, my "deal with the devil" involved no closing costs.

In our hellish little arrangment, it worked like this: The Devil would look over my closing paperwork in its attractive plastic folder, satisfied that I had just closed on the house and I owned it, outright. A quit claim deed would be sufficient, but he would be the one to have the document drawn up, not me.

If I somehow engaged in double dealing--say, by selling it to somebody else on the hood of ANOTHER car the previous night, but then selling it again to The Devil the next morning--that was quite alright. Such a betrayal would be dealt with through "the law of the streets," he said, with an evil grin.

I assured The Devil that "the law of the streets" would not be necessary. I owned the house, heaven help me. But this was certainly another good reason to sell the house to the City of Minneapolis instead of The Devil. The closing ceremony was so much nicer. I seem to recall there were mints and free soft drinks.

The Devil was NOT HAPPY about me making a better deal with the City of Minneapolis, I can tell you. At one point, he called me on the phone and said he'd been to a casino, and he was winning, and he'd pay me $17,000 in cash all up front. Forget what he'd said about a contract for deed. I assured The Devil that if my deal with the City of Minneapolis fell through, I'd come crawling back to him on hands and knees.

But it didn't happen like that. Minneapolis was slow, but true to its word.

"Quiet Enjoyment" Of My Property

On the appointed day and time, before the closing, some kind of inspector showed up from the City of Minneapolis to make sure all "debri" was removed from the house, to see what needed to be removed, salvaged, abated, and so forth. It was an easy process. On the day before closing, I cut the lawn, and at that time I took a picture of "my tree."

Yes, see it above. MY TREE. The tree is still there and, indeed, it might be there for many years to come even after the City of Minneapolis demolishes the house. But I wasn't going to own it any longer, and I wanted a picture of it. My tree. My lawn. My deck. My spacious back yard. My decrepit historical chimney revealing the true age of the house, despite the modern siding.

The person closing for the City of Minneapolis appeared...bored...on the other side of the huge polished conference table. She did closings all the time, she told me. For me, this was a big deal. For Minneapolis, it was just another property. I took my money and ran. I started looking for my next house.

What Do I Know From Taxes? :)

I understand the tax assessed value of the house at 3016 6th St. N. is quite high, despite the low sales prices. Well, first of all, foreclosure sales are not considered proof of value. I've heard that from somebody at the assessor's office who is forced to deal--quite often, it appears--with individuals appealing the value of their properties.

The fact the tax assessed value was 6 digits when I bought the house doesn't bother me. I didn't have an opportunity to appeal it, since I never owned the house in January or December, which is roughly the time when tax assessments need to be appealed. If not appealed, the tax assessments remain in place.

As for why the value may be so much more than the last sales price...the City of Minneapolis owns the property next door, so the lot for 3016 6th St. N. now has the potential to become part of a super-cali-fragilistic-ex-pee-el-oh-doe-shush back yard. So the fact the property value is now something like $47,000 makes perfect sense. At one time after the sale, the value may have been listed higher but I assume that was just some kind of bureaucratic adjustment made before some kind of final determination, blah blah blah.

WHY AM I GETTING INTO ALL THIS TEDIOUS DETAIL? Well, there is a certain T.J. Waconia-affiliated (expletive) hole who insists some kind of "dirty deal" was made with my house, as shown by my profit margin and the tax assessed value of my (former) house.

Uh huh. Well, the famous CitiMortgage house at 415 31st Ave. N. sold for $18,500, which is a very similar price. The taxable value for THAT property is ALSO currently six figures. I guess the problem with people who hang around T.J. Waconia is they assume EVERYBODY ELSE engaged in shady, dirty deals.

As They Say In Dixieland, "All Lived Out."

Part of me felt bad for the old house, but I considered 3016 6th St. N. was like a person at the end of their life whose best days are in the past.

Personally, I think houses should be lived in until they fall over from relentless catapult bombardment by radioactive mutant zombies, then the houses should be cut into pieces and burned for warmth in a Franklin stove, the malleable metals extracted first, of course, useful nails sifted from the ashes.

All of my close, personal friends know the depth of my convictions in regard to recycling, and I'm sure the anecdotes are passed along with rolled eyes and shakes of the head: how John Hoff said, "Fork 'em over" rather than allow a friend to waste a handful of French fries, or walked outside to throw his ice on the lawn, not in the trash, with a little sermon about making a "drink offering" to The Earth.

Recycle EVERYTHING, I say. Including cans, shoes, old houses. Including the mortgage fraudsters from T.J. Waconia, who might be more useful to the neighborhood under "house arrest" than sitting in a federal prison, click here.

But there is more than one way to waste resources. Allowing a neighborhood to fester into a slumlord paradise of rundown, low-value houses creates an environment where more will be spent yearly on 911 calls than can possibly be collected in property taxes. How is that "conserving resources?"

Thus I defer to the wisdom of the City of Minneapolis in regard to the need to relentlessly bulldoze my former house into kindling. And I like the idea of flowers growing on the spot once more.

I am easy. I go with the flow.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Poor Widdle Sex Offender's Former Home To Be Demolished

Photo By John Hoff

Kevin Gulden of PPL informs me via a November 19 email that, while 3023 4th St. N. might be spared, a harsher fate awaits 3024 6th St. N, the former home of...

Level 3 Sex Offender Junaid Maalik.

Poor Widdle Lost Sex Offender--Lost AGAIN!

Interestingly, Junaid no longer turns up on the Minnesota Department of Corrections website for Level 3 Sex Offenders, et al, which brings up some possibilities:

1.) It's a mistake or cover-up. Junaid Maalik SHOULD be up there along with such North Minneapolis noteables as Daniel Paul Breeding and the offensively smirky Phillip Lamont Coleman, but some bureaucrat is tired of Johnny Northside checking the official home of record against official REALITY, and then putting it on his blog.

So Junaid Maalik is no longer listed.

2.) Junaid has finished his period of supervision. So he is no longer on the Department of Corrections website. But, just like murderer; once a Level 3 Sex Offender, always a Level 3 Sex Offender, I say.

3.) Junaid went back to prison. Junaid died. Junaid got permission to leave the state, and did, gladly. (The feeling is mutual) Who knows? Anybody who knows should tell me, because I don't know, but inquiring minds would LIKE to know.

Can Nothing Stop The Backhoe Of Doom?

But that wasn't the point of this post, merely an interesting sideline I discovered while searching for a link. The point is 3024 6th St. N. has been procured by PPL and, according to Kevin Gulden, "We will now start the process of solicting bids to demolish the property."

I've Got Your "Bid" Right HERE

Johnny Northside is willing to underbid EVERYBODY, Kevin!

Here's my bid:

$1, official permission, written protection from all legal liability, and I'll provide my own book of matches. (Like I paid for 'em. HA!!!!)

The $1 must be, of course, cash money. No checks.

Believe It Or Not--I Can Keep A Secret

Actually, I knew PPL was trying to acquire this house. I've known it for weeks, MONTHS, actually. But publicizing such a fact wouldn't have been helpful to PPL, so I kept it to myself and just queried Kevin every few weeks.

There are times when I feel like I'm NOT blogging as much as I'm blogging, because of things people tell me but then quickly say, "Don't go blogging about this."

But I feel so much better now that I'm allowed to tell. Yes, that's the house. Right there. Peeking out from behind the bushes.

No Demolition For 3023 4th Street North!

Photo By John Hoff

During my Hawthorne Housing Committee recap, I mentioned how there was hope PPL would rehab rather than demolish 3023 4th St. N. Well, it's official...

Kevin Gulden tells me in an email dated November 17 that "PPL will not be demolishing this house. We have recently completed a detailed scope of work on how we plan to renovate the property. We plan to present the scope at the December Housing Committee Meeting for review. The project will then go out to bid with work likely starting in January."

Kevin adds, "The house will be sold to a new family. It will have 5 bedrooms and 3 bathrooms. Anyone interested should contact me (Kevin Gulden) at PPL."

It's nice to see one of the houses saved rather than demolished.

Then again...demolition is fun, too. Progress is being made in the Hawthorne Neighborhood in so many ways, and this is more of it.

(I didn't have a suitable photo to illustrate this blog entry...so I went with some flowers in the Polish lady's garden which are the same color as The Backhoe Of Doom)

Foreclosure Poetry By Bryan Thao Worra

Photo By 612 Authentic,
Possibly a Video Capture


Bryan met with Jake and Gabe of 612 Authentic--yes, still making their movie about the foreclosure crisis--and he read a poem in front of a foreclosed house. Here is...

...the poem, which Bryan was kind enough to email me.

Closer, 2008

A house as a poem is about doors
And walls, neighbors and stories.

Not mere beams and boards,
But the hearts behind them, varied as they are.

Here, the child is supposed to play,
While the lovers smile by their stars,
Our elders grow, tomorrow arrives.

Today?
So many rooms empty,
So many dreams lost.

Undone by paper and calculation,
Where shall we eat, where shall we stay?
Where shall we dare another day?

We, as memories, a nation, a city of
Numbers who must not forget we are still people.

Human. One.

Finance, like demons, has its place.
Justice, like wisdom, flourishes only among the free,
As proper as the open eye on a humane face.

"Problem Property" Information From Diane Hofestede's Office

Photo By John Hoff, September 25, 2008

Third Ward Minneapolis City Councilperson Diane Hofestede sent an email to a member of the Hawthorne Neighborhood Housing Committee, and naturally it was forwarded to a number of folks. According to...

...Hofestede, "both 2207 6th St. N. and 614 22nd Ave. N. have been placed on the CARE/Problem Property List and will be monitored." Hofestede says "A housing inspection was completed which resulted in issuing multiple violations. Housing inspector has ordered owner to remove junk and two inoperable vehicles by 11/7/08. Also, inspector ordered first floor and basement be cleaned by 11/15/08 and window repaired by 11/30/08."

In regard to 614 22nd Ave. N., "the house is in foreclosure, redemption period ends in December. Calls for service have subsided since the police were involved with 2207 6th St. N. No housing activity or complaints since March 2007."

By the way, for those interested, here is a fairly good link to a list of foreclosure data for Ward 3, Minneapolis which seems to get updated every month.