Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Eminent Domain Solution for the Mortgage Crisis

Here is an interesting approach to the mortgage crisis.  What if your city was severely affected by the mortgage crisis with many homes going into foreclosure and the resulting property tax revenues plummet, putting your entire city into a downward cycle?  And what if your city determined that the mortgage crisis was a major threat to survival of the city?

If an earthquake, a flood, a hurricane, or some other natural disaster struck this same city, the city could make a disaster declaration and apply for low cost loans, a Stafford Act request could be made for support, and the city might be able to recover.  The Stafford Act applies to natural disasters.

“It is the intent of the Congress, by this Act, to provide an orderly and continuing means of assistance by the Federal Government to State and local governments in carrying out their responsibilities to alleviate the suffering and damage which result from such disasters.  “Emergency” means any occasion or instance for which, in the determination of the President, Federal assistance is needed to supplement State and local efforts and capabilities to save lives and to protect property and public health and safety, or to lessen or avert the threat of a catastrophe in any part of the United States” 

Richmond California is taking another approach and have adopted a plan to invoke the powers of eminent domain to acquire mortgages that are under water and then to find lower priced options for the homeowners to keep them in their homes, to keep the real estate tax payments stable, and to stop the downslide.   The Federal Housing Finance Agency is opposed to this approach and has stated it would suspend Fannie Mae and Freddie mac business in the city if this were invoked.  (

A lawsuit by mortgage companies to stop the city from executing its plan has “not ripened” according to a U.S. District Court.

There was a nice National Public Radio (NPR) piece on this issue on September 17, 2013.  (  The organizing for and against is particularly interesting. Opponents of the eminent domain plan rounded up local college kids, gave them red “a bad deal for Richmond” T-shirts, and had them wave “stop investor greed” placards, while supporters handed out yellow T-shirts with “yes on Richmond CARES” stickers. But the opposition is also lined up in court. For the last few months, Wall Street has traipsed into federal court threatening all kinds of problems for the city, led by filings by Wells Fargo and Deutsche Bank, and they have been joined by a surprising ally: the Federal Housing Finance Agency, which oversees and regulates Fannie and Freddie. MRP is willing to foot Richmond’s legal bills, but won’t indemnify the city if the courts rule against it and exact costly penalties. A small coalition of nonprofits, however, including the California Reinvestment Coalition, the National Housing Law Project, Housing and Economic Rights Advocates, Bay Area Legal Aid, and the Law Foundation of Silicon Valley, has filed an amicus against Richmond’s Wall Street adversaries.

The mortgage crisis and approaches to solutions drive home the importance of parcel information, the real estate tax systems, being able to monitor and perform analysis on the economy of parcel data in any jurisdiction.  Regardless of how this is settled or resolved, parcel data will be essential to track the conditions, monitor progress, and provide measurable indicators for success.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Parcel Index

Parcel Index

(This is patterned after the Harper Indexpublished each month in Harpers magazine)

There are approximately 12,000 real estate assessing jurisdictions in the US.

This is about 26,000 people and about 13,000 parcels per assessing jurisdiction.

In Michigan there are approximately 5,000 people and about 2,500 parcels per assessing jurisdiction.

Virginia has 138 real estate taxing jurisdictions.

There are over 6,000 real estate taxing jurisdictions in the US.

There are approximately 150,000,000 tax parcels in the US and approximately 313,000,000 people, averaging about 2 people per parcel.

Slightly over 90% of the tax parcels in the US have been mapped in a computer mapping system.

About 94% of the US lives in a jurisdiction that has digital parcel data.

Approximately 75% of the counties in the US have digital parcel mapping systems.

Approximately 50 apps related to parcel data are in the iTunes store, not all of them US based.

The Public Land Survey System (PLSS) covers 30 states in the US.

Manta lists 181,848 companies with land surveying in their name, 242, 658 with Land Information in their name, and 67,045 with Geographic Information in their name in the US. 

RealtyTrac estimates there were 130,888 new foreclosures in July 2013 with an average sale value of $164,971.

RealtyTrac estimates that there are currently 1,305,081 properties in US that are in some stage of foreclosure (default, auction, or bank owned).

According to the Census there were 132,419,000 housing units in the US in 2011. Approximately 114,907,000 were occupied as regular residences and 17,512,000 were vacant or seasonal.

The assessment jurisdiction numbers come from the International Association of Assessing Officers (, the parcel counts come from the national parcel inventory ( data set, Manta can be found at (, RealtyTrac can be found at (, and the US Census Bureau is at (  Harper's Index can be found at (