- NY bankruptcy judge dismissed suit against DLA Piper for misappropriation of over $36 million in payments to cover mortgage-backed securities. The judge cited NY law that “prevents wrongdoers and their successors from pursuing claims that arise out of their own misconduct.”
- NY federal judge denied “Act of God” defense made by National Electronic Transit Corporation for damage caused to machines stored in warehouse during Hurricane Sandy, instead finding that the company was under-prepared for the storm.
- RBS Securities has settled to pay $129.6 million for claims made by the National Credit Union Administration for the sale of mortgage-backed securities, which may have led to the failure of two credit unions.
- NY federal court denied Citibank’s bid to relate FDIC’s suit over failure as trustee for mortgage-backed securities to a suit accusing the bank of mishandling mortgage-backed securities in pooled loans.
- Building investors sue Waterbridge Capital LLC for $10 million for allegedly selling units and pocketing profits, refusing to pay back its investors.
- Hurricane Sandy $25 million contract-insurance suit is dismissed against one of the defendants, Arch Insurance Group and its subsidiary, because the underlying policy limits hadn’t been reached and thus Arch did not have any liability.
- In $189 million mortgage fraud suit, the federal government claims that Wells Fargo cannot access documents it withheld because “the release of some documents doesn’t waive protects for all of them.”
- The Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. sues US Bank and Citigroup, Inc. for allegedly failing as trustee of residential mortgage-backed securities leading to a $695 million loss to the insurance fund.
- Morgan Stanley agrees to pay the DOJ $2.6 billion to end investigation about its mortgage-backed securities deals during the financial crisis.
- MetLife settles with DOJ for $123.5 million for issuing mortgages that did not meet underwriting standards.
- State Farm will refund $352.5 million to customers for overcharging them for homeowners’ insurance.
- New York City apartment owners are suing Lexington Insurance Co. for failing to pay more than a third of its $95.3 million claims from Superstorm Sandy.
- Bank of America moves to dismiss Ambac’s $600 million claim that Countrywide issued faulty residential mortgage-backed securities.
Law360 quoted me in Green Bond Bandwagon Promises Cash Returns For NYC (behind a paywall). It opens,
A New York City proposal to market billions in so-called green bonds could reduce debt costs for the city by enticing investors who have stampeded toward guilt-free returns elsewhere, but buyers must tread carefully lest their money ends up funding projects not seen as environmentally relevant.
New York City Comptroller Scott M. Stringer put forth a plan last week that would see the city’s capital spending program add municipal bonds for financing environmentally friendly projects to its plans to issue $30 billion in new debt over four years.
The proposal, which Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration is studying, suggests moving quickly while there this still a focus on reinforcing the city after Superstorm Sandy and amid the strong demand for green bonds in the private sector as well as in California, Massachusetts and Washington, D.C. As soon as next year, the city could being to convert a large portion of its Municipal Water Finance Authority debt — some $1.5 billion per year — into green bonds and could allocate up to $200 million per year in Transitional Finance Authority and general obligation bonds to similar use.
“Green bonds should be another example of how New York City leads the nation in finding solutions that work,” Stringer said.
While experts in public debt investment largely see the proposal as a promotional bid to market New York City debt, they note that the city’s high national profile could make such a move profitable amid investor hunger to capitalize environmentally friendly projects.
“The big question is: How much demand would this create? One of the main points of the green bonds would be to increase demand,” said Brooklyn Law School professor David Reiss, an expert in real estate finance and community development. “If there really is pent-up demand, and New York City acts as an early mover, it might get a short-term benefit in the cost of borrowing.”
Stringer’s prediction that New York City could spark others to follow suit would also likely come true, Reiss said.
“If this is demonstrated to materially drive down borrowing costs, you’ll see others doing the same thing,” he said. “I’m a little skeptical, over the long term, that you’d have serious savings. But in the shorter term, you might.”
NYU’s Furman Center released a report, The Price of Resilience: Can Multifamily Housing Afford to Adapt? It explains that storm-proofing New York City
poses several special challenges not shared by all coastal areas. First, New York City is largely built out, with much of its building stock long predating current flood-resistant design standards. Resilience in New York, then, primarily means retrofitting older buildings, not just strengthening building codes for new construction. Second, much of the official guidance about how to retrofit residential properties to reduce risk and lower insurance premiums is geared toward 1-4 family buildings, reflecting the national housing stock. In New York City, though, only one-third of the buildings thought to be vulnerable to flooding are1-4 family, detached homes. A much larger number of housing units vulnerable to future storms are located in roughly 4,500 multifamily buildings with five or more rental units. Finding ways to cost effectively retrofit these types of buildings to protect residents and reduce insurance premiums for owners needs to be central to New York City’s storm-preparedness efforts.
Finally, the extreme shortage of affordable housing in New York may make the direct and indirect costs of retrofitting particularly hard to bear. Based on current federal policy, increased flood risk requires for many buildings either investment in physical improvements or payment of higher insurance premiums. Without external funding or other relief, there is no clear avenue to enact these resilience improvements while maintaining affordability. Eliminating all units below the predicted flood level, for example, could result in the loss of thousands of indispensable housing units. Even if units are not lost, property owners may pass on the costs of retrofitting buildings to residents through a rent increase, reducing the supply of affordable units in New York City’s coastal areas. For buildings that are constrained in their ability to raise rents and raise funds for improvements, like many of the rent stabilized and subsidized buildings in the city, the financial burden of making costly retrofits might be overwhelming, leading to the conversion of those buildings to market rate (when permitted), unsustainable operating budgets that may require a bail-out, or a large number of buildings left unprepared for future storms. The costs of not retrofitting, however, may be even more burdensome: building owners may face skyrocketing flood insurance premiums if they do not retrofit their buildings.
While I am not so sure that storm-proofing will be what pushes New York City’s housing stock into the unaffordable column (I think the relentless increases in demand might just to the job for units that are not rent regulated), the Furman Center report reminds us that we have a lot to do to protect New York from the next big storm. The Bloomberg Administration did a lot in a short time to identify what the City can do to increase the City’s resiliency. Given the quality of his housing and economic development team, there is reason to hope that the de Blasio Administration will continue to tackle the threat of climate change in a productive way.
The Furman Center report provides three concrete recommendations to ensure that NYC’s large stock of multi-family housing in flood zones is protected from future storm events:
- The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) should modify the guidelines for its National Flood Insurance Program for coverage of existing multifamily buildings;
- New York City should expand its Flood Resilience Zoning Text Amendment to cover buildings in the 500-year floodplain; and
- The city should revisit its existing rehabilitation programs to ensure that resilience measures can be readily funded; and it should require that buildings in the 100-year and 500-year floodplains that receive city assistance have adequate emergency and resilience plans.
These all seem like reasonable policies that should be implemented asap.
The Rand Corporation has posted Flood Insurance in New York City Following Hurricane Sandy. The report has a chapter on affordability issues that is worth a read, particularly as the de Blasio Administration undertakes its ambitious affordable housing plan. The report notes that
many New Yorkers will face substantially higher flood insurance premiums moving forward. Many more structures will be in areas considered high-risk than in the past, and premiums for many structures already in high-risk areas will be based on considerably higher flood levels.
* * *
These substantial premium increases will reduce the disposable income or wealth (or both) of many households and may well be unaffordable for some. In the absence of intervention, the consequences may be foreclosures, turnover, and hardship for some of New York City’s more-vulnerable citizens.(63)
The book goes on to review a variety of approaches “for addressing the affordability issue.” (67) It reviews “tax credits, grants, and vouchers that could be applied toward the cost of flood insurance.” (63) It also notes that such interventions distort “the price signal that incentives property owners to invest in risk-mitigation measures in order to reduce premiums.” (67) It considers proposals to deal with such distortion, such as a means-tested voucher program that is coupled “with a requirement that mitigation measures be taken that make sense for the property.” (67) The book only scratches the surface of this topic, noting that more “information is needed to address the advantages and disadvantages of alternative strategies for addressing affordability.” (68)
As the de Blasio Administration considers the preservation portion of its affordable housing agenda, one could imagine that a concerted effort to incentivize risk mitigation while also promoting affordability could be a significant component of the final plan. Solutions could range from deferred payment, due on sale or refinance of a home, to outright subsidies as outlined by the Rand report. Whatever the ultimate solution is, the problem should be incorporated into the City’s planning now.
My Property Law Colloquium this semester will address topics relating to climate change, resiliency and sustainability with a particular focus on how those issues affect post-Sandy New York City. I co-teach this class (which is also open to graduate students in urban planning and related programs at the Pratt Institute) with Brad Lander. Brad is a NYC Councilmember, but more importantly for this class, he was the director of the Pratt Center for Community Development before being elected to the Council.
I will be blogging about the issues addressed in the class intermittently, particularly since hurricane season is back. I recently discussed NYC’s hurricane preparedness with the Christian Science Monitor in ‘Above Normal’ Hurricane Season Coming. Is New York Ready for Another Sandy?. The likelihood of another Sandy-level event is extremely low in the near term (because of Sandy’s perfect storm conditions: a full moon, high tide and bad luck as to where the storm hit land) but certainly those of us on the East Coast are right to feel wary.
The City and the federal government have been working to address short and long term issues relating to Sandy-like storms and they have issued a number of reports on this issue over the last few months. Most recently, the federal government’s Hurricane Sandy Rebuilding Task Force has issued its Hurricane Sandy Rebuilding Strategy (link to full report at bottom of the press release).
I was struck by how many of the Task Force’s recommendations were straight real estate and real estate finance issues, including
- Prioritizing the engagement of vulnerable populations on issues of risk and resilience. [remember how public housing and adult home residents were particularly hard hit by Sandy]
- Helping disaster victims to be able to stay in their homes by allowing homeowners to quickly make emergency repairs. Preventing responsible homeowners from being forced out of their homes due to short term financial hardship while recovering from disaster by creating nationally-consistent mortgage policies. [remember the images of people having to live in the shells of their homes after they were gutted to address mold and other damage]
- Making housing units – both individual and multi-family – more sustainable and resilient through smart recovery steps including elevating above flood risk and increased energy efficiency [remember the images of safe raised homes next to destroyed ground-level homes]. (13-14)
I’ll follow up on these issues over the course of the semester, but for now let’s just hope that those perfect storm conditions don’t reappear for a long time.