community stories for southern Nevada

Public Policy

Renters fight an uphill battle in Nevada

We’ve  heard many many stories about homeowners struggling to save their homes, to negotiate with lenders, to sort out whether or not to walk away. In this two-part series, we ask: what about renters. It turns out renters have been caught in the middle of the foreclosure crisis, and they’ve had the least to do with the mess, they’ve been affected quite dramatically by the fallout. And mistreatment of renters in southern Nevada, by lenders, by third party proxies, by landlords, appears to be on the rise.

Listen to the two-part series…

Part I is the story of a man who is trying to answer a seemingly simple question…who changed the locks on his rental condo? Hear his story:

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Part II…This year, legislators enacted a number of laws which give renters some more traction. How effective are these new laws, and where are they falling short?

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Shalis Front Door


IRS examining first time buyer claims

From this Wall Street Journal article:

The Internal Revenue Service is examining more than 100,000 suspicious claims for the first-time home-buyer tax break, another sign of potential trouble for the soon-to-expire program.

 The measure, adopted in February as part of the economic-stimulus bill, gives first-time buyers an $8,000 tax credit in an effort to boost sales and stimulate the moribund housing market. The program is set to end Nov. 30, but housing-industry leaders are lobbying Congress to extend it.

 More than a million claims for the credit have been received so far, and housing-industry experts estimated that the credit has helped generate about 350,000 home sales that wouldn’t otherwise have occurred. But some lawmakers and tax experts now say there is evidence that a significant number of the claims might prove to be unjustified, or even fraudulent.

 ”I am concerned about recent reports that there have been fraudulent schemes involving the credit,” Rep. John Lewis (D., Ga.), chairman of a House Ways and Means oversight subcommittee, said in a statement. The subcommittee is planning a hearing on the problems on Thursday.

 The IRS said it was investigating 167 “criminal schemes” involving the credit, according to the subcommittee. IRS officials on Monday declined to describe the suspected schemes or provide additional details.

Extending (and broadening) the federal homebuyer credit…?

The Las Vegas Sun reads the tea leaves:

Las Vegas home sales traditionally slump at the end of the year as people wait until the spring to consider buying, and analysts are wondering how strong the market will be as the holidays and 2010 approach.

But the focus these days is more on Washington than on Las Vegas for what the future holds.

Congress is debating whether to extend the $8,000 tax credit for first-time homebuyers that expires Nov. 30. The credit has bolstered sales and likely will be extended, analysts said.

But Congress is considering making the credit available to additional buyers — a move that could boost the housing market.

Stimulus jobs missing states that need it most–like Nevada

A story in the New York Times indicated that the federal stimulus package hasn’t created many jobs in states hit hardest by unemployment.

Businesses with federal stimulus contracts have created few jobs in states with the worst unemployment rates, according to data released Thursday by the federal government.

The new jobs reported (reported here) come from a small slice of a sliver of the $787 billion stimulus program: the roughly $16 billion worth of stimulus contracts that were awarded directly by federal agencies, of which about $2.2 billion has been spent so far. But the preliminary data represented the first time that the federal government has reported actual job figures, and not just job estimates, and they provided the most complete snapshot yet of how one component of the sprawling program — direct federal contracts — was shaping up.

One thing was clear: while the federal contracts have created or saved 30,383 jobs, they were not directed to states with the highest jobless rates. Businesses in Michigan, whose 15.2 percent unemployment rate in August was the highest in the nation, reported creating or saving about 400 jobs. Businesses in Nevada, which had the next highest unemployment rate, reported 159. And businesses in Rhode Island, which had the third-highest unemployment rate, 12.8 percent, reported the fewest jobs: just six.

The Review-Journal had its own story:

Nevada’s unemployment of 13.2 percent is the nation’s second-worst jobless rate. But the Silver State’s $57.4 million share of federal-contract money represents 2.6 percent of the total awarded nationwide, while North Dakota, where unemployment is just 4.3 percent, received 4.3 percent of funds granted. Its $96 million in contracts was almost twice the dollars Nevada companies collected.

What’s more, North Dakota reported creating or saving 219 jobs, while Nevada businesses formed or spared 159 jobs. Nevada has roughly five times the population of North Dakota.

Colorado, which has a jobless rate of 7.3 percent, received 26.5 percent of dollars awarded so far, with $583 million in contracts

State of Nevada: Looking beyond the decline…

…and learning from the rust belt.

We did a show on KNPR’s State of Nevada, looking at the ballooning need for social services in Nevada. The state’s unemployment rate recently hit 13.2% (it’s higher in Las Vegas). Tens of thousands of people have lost their homes. The state’s Health and Human Services Department estimates that by 2013, 1 in 5 Nevadans will be on food stamps.

So, if the boom times are gone, what can we learn from cities that faced a similar decline years ago? On this edition of State of Nevada, we talked with the dynamic, young mayor of Youngstown, Ohio, Jay Williams. Williams shared some of the things he’s been trying to accomplish in Youngstown, a city that’s been declining since the steel mill heyday of the 50’s and 60’s. 

Smaller is better? Jay Williams says yes. Listen to Mayor Williams offer a little advice to Oscar Goodman, and to the rest of our show, here:

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The morality of markets, or…er…lack thereof….

Today’s Marketplace feature an excellent interview with Harvard University political philosopher Michael Sandel. Sandel talked about the themes and ideas of his latest book, Justice: What is the Right Thing to Do?–specifically, a chapter called Morals and Markets.

Sandel talks about moral outrage people are feeling about the bank bailout, and I think he’d find lots of outrage right here in southern Nevada on that count. BLV would like to hear your perspective on this, so please tell your thoughts here.

Here’s the kicker from the interview:

SANDEL: You go up to someone on one of those street corners down by Wall Street. And you ask him or her in a quiet moment, “how do you justify this frenzied way of life that you’re engaged in?” I suspect they would give you in a reflective moment an answer something like this: “By pursuing gain and engaging in risk, we are providing the lubricant for the financial system and therefore for the economic system as a whole. And we are helping contribute to allocating capital to those projects and innovations in the economy that will make everybody better off.”

I’m not saying that every single trader on the floor would give you that answer, but I know some people who would. And that can be the starting point, I think, of a wider public conversation about the underlying moral purpose that markets serve. And once we have that conversation, we might also be led to discuss whether there are certain moral limits that markets should respect.

Listen to the entire interview here:

Fantasy loan-mod football

Last week I blogged about Bobbi Giguere, the 41 year-old single mom who had the unusual opportunity to grill a Wells Fargo Exec in court about her stalled loan modification. Giguere had been working “through the system” for months, and getting nowhere (…well, she was actually headed somewhere….While Wells Fargo strung her along, the company was simultaneously moving to foreclose on her home…!) At her wits end, Giguere wrote to her bankruptcy judge and ended up getting to do what thousands of frustrated consumers can only dream about. Confront someone in charge:

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Bobbi Giguere joined us today on KNPR’s State of Nevada to continue the conversation. We were also joined by Nevada Bankers Association president Bill Uffelman, and Bill Buzenberg, Executive Director of the Center for Public Integrity:

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Stiglitz says banking problems are now bigger than pre-2007

Two articles. Here’s an opinion column in the Financial Times:

Too often, we confuse ends with means. One of the criticisms of our economies in the years prior to the crisis is that they did exactly that – a financial sector is a means to a more productive economy, not an end in itself.

This one, from Bloomberg news:

Joseph Stiglitz, the Nobel Prize- winning economist, said the U.S. has failed to fix the underlying problems of its banking system after the credit crunch and the collapse of Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc.

 “In the U.S. and many other countries, the too-big-to-fail banks have become even bigger,” Stiglitz said in an interview today in Paris. “The problems are worse than they were in 2007 before the crisis.”

 Stiglitz’s views echo those of former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker, who has advised President Barack Obama’s administration to curtail the size of banks,

How Did Economists Get It So Wrong?

Paul Krugman’s recent article from the New York Times Magazine:

It’s hard to believe now, but not long ago economists were congratulating themselves over the success of their field. Those successes — or so they believed — were both theoretical and practical, leading to a golden era for the profession…

…Few economists saw our current crisis coming, but this predictive failure was the least of the field’s problems. More important was the profession’s blindness to the very possibility of catastrophic failures in a market economy.