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Chasing Bad Lenders and Cul-De-Sacs Are Not So Safe

A few stories about housing and transport

Chasing Bad Lenders

The great debate over the great housing bubble asks the question: Whose fault was it? Did home buyers throw caution out the window or did bankers con them by offering free money? It was some of both. But the New York Times tells us the attorney general of New York is launching a new investigation into three Wall Street banks: Bank of America, Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley.

During the housing boom these big banks bundled thousands of home loans into securities that were sold to pension funds, mutual funds, insurance companies and other investors. We all know what happened to those investment packages when the boom went bust. The question is how much did the big banks know, and what did they not reveal, about the risk of their securities.

This is not a question of whether these banks will face a lawsuit… or possibly criminal charges. The question is how many. A lot of regulators have filed suit and some of the banks have paid very large settlements. We’ll see where this one goes.

Housing Starts Are Stalled

Bad times for the housing industry spell very bad times for home builders, and that’s bad for the construction industry in places like San Diego. New homes need to fetch a better price than resale homes, and used homes for sale are so plentiful and cheap there’s very little demand for new houses.

The LA Times reports the number of people who bought previously-owned homes last year fell to a 13-year low. Sales of new homes were even worse, hitting the lowest level on record dating back nearly a half-century.

The Commerce Department told CNN the number of new homes being built in the U.S. fell 10.6% in April to an annual rate of 523,000 units. That’s less than half what the housing industry considers a healthy rate of housing starts.

You’re Not So Safe In A Cul-De-Sac

Old-style neighborhoods are built on street grids. The suburbs brought us the Cul-de-sac, and that’s not good for emergency services, says the Congress for New Urbanism (CNU).

According to CNU, a study in Charlotte, North Carolina showed the per capita costs for fire service increased from $159 in the portion of the city with the best-connected street grid network to $740 in the least connected zone.

The problem with Cul-de-sacs are… well, the Cul-de-sacs. Stuffing homes into a series of dead-end streets forces communities to connect them to large arterial streets, where traffic bunches up. It also reduces the number of ways an ambulance or fire engine can arrive at a destination.

This is something to think about as San Diego tries to reduce its fire service “brown-outs.” The more connected your streets, the faster you get places and the less time it takes for an emergency vehicle.

Public Opinion Speaks: We Want High MPG Standards

CAFE standards don’t tell us how a cappuccino should be brewed. They tell automakers how many miles per gallon their fleets of cars need to offer. And a poll released by the Consumer Federation of America finds that 62 percent of Americans favor a CAFE standard that requires car makers to have an average of 62 MPG by 2025.

That fuel economy mandate does not have the support of automakers. No surprise. So far the government is discussing the 62 mpg standard but no decision has been made. The current CAFE rules, announced in April 2010, require 35 mpg by 2016.

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