Sunday, November 27, 2011

Project Rebuild holds promise for housing industry

Almost hidden near the bottom of the American Jobs Act, the Obama administration proposed a plan to help the areas hit hardest by foreclosures and the loss of construction jobs.

Known as Project Rebuild, the program would have accounted for a small portion of the $450 billion jobs bill -- about $15 billion. The money would go toward putting local construction workers back to work and revitalizing vacant and foreclosure homes.

This isn't a vital need for every state, but it is in Arizona where nearly 250,000 construction workers have lost their jobs since the housing crash.

U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Shaun Donovan was in Phoenix a little more than a week ago talking to housing and government leaders and touring neighborhoods that had received Neighborhood Stabilization Program, or NSP, funds. He also took some time to talk to The Arizona Republic.

The focus of most of our questions to Donovan was the expansion of the federal refinancing program to let homeowners lower their payments no matter how underwater they are with their mortgages.

More details and information on how homeowners apply to refinance are expected next week.

Project Rebuild was almost lost in the conversation because the Senate has already voted down the Jobs Act.

But the Obama administration is trying to break the plan into pieces it can enact through executive orders or existing funding.

It's obvious the administration isn't giving up on Project Rebuild, which would complement NSP, a plan enacted by the Bush administration before the last presidential election.

Project Rebuild would call for Arizona to receive almost half a billion dollars to renovate homes and revitalize neighborhoods.

Rep. Ed Pastor, D-Ariz., pointed out that only local contracting companies could apply for the funds.

Donovan said Arizona's share of the Project Rebuild funding could create as many as 6,100 jobs and rehabilitate as many as 5,800 properties.

The program won't spur a recovery of metro Phoenix's housing market. But coupled with the hundreds of millions of dollars in NSP funds that Arizona has received during the past few years to buy, sell and rehabilitate foreclosure homes and neighborhoods with too many abandoned homes, the money could certainly help.

Arizona Republic reporter Maria Polletta toured a south Phoenix neighborhood that received NSP funds with Donovan, Pastor and local government and non-profit leaders.

Edmundo Hidalgo, president of Chicanos Por La Causa, pointed out a home in the area that had appreciated by 50 percent since his group put a homeowner in it using NSP funds.

Some Arizona communities have been criticized for enacting their NSP programs too slowly.

But Hidalgo said his group has been selling 20 to 40 homes a month using funds from the government program.

Pastor said Project Rebuild is the right program to complement NSP and help Arizona's construction industry. But first the Obama administration must find a way to fund it.

by Catherine Reagor The Arizona Republic Nov. 19, 2011 12:00 AM

Project Rebuild holds promise for housing industry

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