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Editor: David Reiss
Brooklyn Law School

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May 28, 2015

Dos And Don’ts of Mixed-Use Development

By David Reiss

Mixed Use Development

I was interviewed on Georgia Public Radio’s On Second Thought radio show about The Dos And Don’ts of Mixed-Use Developments. The segment was about John’s Creek,

an affluent suburb in northeast Atlanta. It’s fairly small — only about 80,000 people live there — but it has big dreams.

The city wants to transform some of its 728-acre office park into a town center with homes, shops and offices. John’s Creek mayor Michael Bodker calls the redevelopment project “The District,” referring to an area that would become the city’s downtown sector. Bodker believes this project will broaden the city’s tax base.

“John’s Creek does not have a healthy and sustainable tax digest,” Bodker said in his most recent State of the City address. “Homeowners are disproportionately supporting the load by covering 81 percent of the tax digest versus 19 percent for commercial.” Without doing something to change the current model, he says, there will be less money for public services like road repairs.

The segment was quite short, so it did not get to what I thought was the key issue — the appropriate role of mass transit in the design of urban centers. It appears that the mayor’s plan does not contemplate linking this new urban center to Atlanta-area mass transit. That seems like the kiss of death for what is supposed to be a walkable town center.

To be an attractive walkable environment, you need a critical mass of walkers. Mass transit brings walkers. Some walk by preference and some by necessity: young people without cars; senior citizens who have grown less comfortable driving; and people who might want to have a few drinks and enjoy the nightlife planned for The District.  Moreover, many retail and service jobs pay relatively low wages, so many workers rely on public transportation to get to work. John’s Creek should take a fresh look at the principles of Transit-Oriented Design and New Urbanism before finalizing its plan.

On Second Thought’s website also discusses some of my other thoughts on planning such a big project.

May 28, 2015 | Permalink | No Comments

Thursday’s Advocacy & Think Tank Round-Up

By Serenna McCloud

  • National Association of Realtors announced that its REALTORS®  Confidence Index Six-month Outlook  remains strong for the third month in a row, the index rose above 50 for all property types. An index greater than 50 indicates that the number of respondents with “strong” outlook outnumbered those with “weak” outlook. In the single family market, the confidence rose to 76 (75 in  March 2015; 68 in April 2014).  The index for townhomes rose to 58 (56 in March 2015; 49 in April 2014), while the index for condominiums increased to 52 (51 in March 2015; 46 in April 2014).

May 28, 2015 | Permalink | No Comments

May 27, 2015

Seeking Justice Through Litigation

By David Reiss

AbandonedHouseDelray

Judge Caproni (SDNY) issued an Opinion and Order in Adkins v. Morgan Stanley, No. 12-CV-7667 (May 14, 2015). It opens,

This is one of many cases arising out of the collapse of the housing market. This one comes with a twist: homeowners in Detroit who received subprime loans seek to hold a single investment bank responsible under the Fair Housing Act (“FHA”) for discriminating against African-American borrowers, based on their claim that African-Americans were more likely than similarly-situated white borrowers to receive so-called “Combined-Risk loans.” Plaintiffs allege that Morgan Stanley so infected the market for residential mortgages — and for mortgages written by New Century Mortgage Company, a now defunct loan originator, in particular — that it bears responsibility for the disparate impact of New Century’s lending practices. Although Plaintiffs advance creative theories, their class action lawsuit founders on the requirements of Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23. (1-2, footnote omitted)

Judge Caproni notes that she is “not unsympathetic to Plaintiff’s claims,” she concludes that this class action lawsuit is an inappropriate vehicle to rectify the wrong that Plaintiffs allege Morgan Stanley perpetrated.” (2) I am not an expert on the law of class actions, but the opinion does seem to identify a number of ways in which the proposed class is “unworkable.” (2)

We are now nearly ten years in from the start of the financial crisis and it seems like we can get a broad sense of whether justice has been served.  My instinct is that many people would say “No,” a resounding “No!”

At first glance that might seem odd, particularly to the shareholders and management of financial institutions who have paid tens of billions of dollars in fines and judgments. But there is a strong sense that those who have been harmed have not been able to get their day in court with those who did the harming. A case like this reveals the limitations of litigation as a means for seeking justice. Not every injustice is capable of being remedied in a court of law.

What does this tell us about preparing for the aftermath of the next crisis? How can laws be changed now to ensure that the right people and institutions are held accountable when it hits? While there are no easy answers to these questions, lawmakers should consider whether the scope of organizational liability is properly defined, whether agents of organizations are properly held accountable and whether organizations working in tandem with each other can be properly held accountable for the harms that they cause collectively. Easier said than done, I know, but still worth the effort.

May 27, 2015 | Permalink | No Comments

Wednesday’s Academic Roundup

By Shea Cunningham

May 27, 2015 | Permalink | No Comments

May 26, 2015

Tuesday’s Regulatory & Legislative Round-Up

By Serenna McCloud

  • Consumer Financial Protection Bureau Director, Richard Cordray’s, prepared remarks before the National Association of Realtors.
  • The Department of Housing and Urban Development is seeking public comment regarding proposed revisions to the language of the HUD Addendum to Uniform Residential Loan Application, also known as the 92900-A, the loan certification document signed by lenders.  HUD is providing a 60-day comment period on proposed revisions to the form and is requesting all public comments be received by July 14, 2015.
  • The Senate Banking Committee passed The Financial Regulatory Improvement Act of 2015, which would roll back provisions of Dodd-Frank, which was passed in 2010 to remedy the issues which led to the Great Recession (AKA Global Financial Crisis). The bill has many provisions which provide relief to community banks and credit unions, and also many provisions relating to mortgage finance. The Bill still has to be considered by the wider Senate, where it will face significant challenges, along party lines.
  • The American Bankers Association has issued a statement in support of The Financial Regulatory Improvement Act of 2015.
  • Americans for Financial Freedom has issued a statement in opposition to The Financial Regulatory Improvement Act of 2015.

May 26, 2015 | Permalink | No Comments

Going It Alone on Your Mortgage

By David Reiss

walking alone

WiseBread quoted me in When It Makes Sense to Apply for a Mortgage Loan Without Your Spouse. It opens,

You and your spouse or partner are ready to apply for a mortgage loan. It makes sense to apply for the loan jointly, right? That way, your lender can use your combined incomes when determining how much mortgage money it can lend you.

Surprisingly, this isn’t always the right approach.

If the three-digit credit score of your spouse or partner is too low, it might make sense to apply for a mortgage loan on your own — as long as your income alone is high enough to let you qualify.

That’s because it doesn’t matter how high your credit score is if your spouse’s is low. Your lender will look at your spouse’s score, and not yours, when deciding if you and your partner qualify for a home loan.

“If one spouse has a low credit score, and that credit score is so low that the couple will either have to pay a higher interest rate or might not qualify for every loan product out there, then it might be time to consider dropping that spouse from the loan application,” says Eric Rotner, vice president of mortgage banking at the Scottsdale, Arizona office of Commerce Home Mortgage. “If a score is below a certain point, it can really limit your options.”

How Credit Scores Work

Lenders rely heavily on credit scores today, using them to determine the interest rates they charge borrowers and whether they’ll even approve their clients for a mortgage loan. Lenders consider a FICO score of 740 or higher to be a strong one, and will usually reserve their lowest interest rates for borrowers with such scores.

Borrowers whose scores are too low — say under 640 on the FICO scale — will struggle to qualify for mortgage loans without having to pay higher interest rates. They might not be able to qualify for any loan at all, depending on how low their score is.

Which Score Counts?

When couples apply for a mortgage loan together, lenders don’t consider all scores. Instead, they focus on the borrower who has the lowest credit score.

Every borrower has three FICO credit scores — one each compiled by the three national credit bureaus, TransUnion, Experian, and Equifax. Each of these scores can be slightly different. When couples apply for a mortgage loan, lenders will only consider the lowest middle credit score between the applicants.

Say you have credit scores of 740, 780, and 760 from the three credit bureaus. Your spouse has scores of 640, 620, and 610. Your lender will use that 620 score only when determining how likely you are to make your loan payments on time. Many lenders will consider a score of 620 to be too risky, and won’t approve your loan application. Others will approve you, but only at a high interest rate.

In such a case, it might make sense to drop a spouse from the loan application.

But there are other factors to consider.

“If you are the sole breadwinner, and your spouse’s credit score is low, it usually makes sense to apply in your name only for the mortgage loan,” said Mike Kinane, senior vice president of consumer lending at the Hamilton, New Jersey office of TD Bank. “But your income will need to be enough to support the mortgage you are looking for.”

That’s the tricky part: If you drop a spouse from a loan application, you won’t be penalized for that spouse’s weak credit score. But you also can’t use that spouse’s income. You might need to apply for a smaller mortgage loan, which usually means buying a smaller home, too.

Other Times to Drop a Spouse

There are other times when it makes sense for one spouse to sit out the loan application process.

If one spouse has too much debt and not enough income, it can be smart to leave that spouse out of the loan process. Lenders typically want your total monthly debts — including your estimated new monthly mortgage payment — to equal no more than 43% of your gross monthly income. If your spouse’s debt is high enough to throw this ratio out of whack, applying alone might be the wise choice.

Spouses or partners with past foreclosures, bankruptcies, or short sales on their credit reports might stay away from the loan application, too. Those negative judgments could make it more difficult to qualify for a loan.

Again, it comes down to simple math: Does the benefit of skipping your partner’s low credit score, high debt levels, and negative judgments outweigh the negative of not being able to use that spouse’s income?

“The $64,000 question is whether the spouse with the bad credit score is the breadwinner for the couple,” says David Reiss, professor of law with Brooklyn Law School in Brooklyn, New York. “The best case scenario would be a couple where the breadwinner is also the one with the good credit score. Dropping the other spouse from the application is likely a no-brainer in that circumstance. And of course, there will be a gray area for a couple where both spouses bring in a significant share of the income. In that case, the couple should definitely shop around for lenders that can work with them.”

May 26, 2015 | Permalink | No Comments

May 25, 2015

Charge of the Light Brigade

By David Reiss

The Charge of the Light Brigade

Alfred Tennyson

       I
HALF a league, half a league,
Half a league onward,
All in the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.
‘Forward, the Light Brigade!
Charge for the guns!’ he said:
Into the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.

       II
‘Forward, the Light Brigade!’
Was there a man dismay’d?
Not tho’ the soldier knew
Some one had blunder’d:
Their’s not to make reply,
Their’s not to reason why,
Their’s but to do and die:
Into the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.

       III
Cannon to right of them,
Cannon to left of them,
Cannon in front of them
Volley’d and thunder’d;
Storm’d at with shot and shell,
Boldly they rode and well,
Into the jaws of Death,
Into the mouth of Hell
Rode the six hundred.

       IV
Flash’d all their sabres bare,
Flash’d as they turn’d in air
Sabring the gunners there,
Charging an army, while
All the world wonder’d:
Plunged in the battery-smoke
Right thro’ the line they broke;
Cossack and Russian
Reel’d from the sabre-stroke
Shatter’d and sunder’d.
Then they rode back, but not
Not the six hundred.

       V
Cannon to right of them,
Cannon to left of them,
Cannon behind them
Volley’d and thunder’d;
Storm’d at with shot and shell,
While horse and hero fell,
They that had fought so well
Came thro’ the jaws of Death,
Back from the mouth of Hell,
All that was left of them,
Left of six hundred.

       VI
When can their glory fade?
O the wild charge they made!
All the world wonder’d.
Honour the charge they made!
Honour the Light Brigade,
Noble six hundred!

May 25, 2015 | Permalink | No Comments