Saturday, May 19, 2012

Reiss on Reforming the Residential Mortgage-Backed Securities Market

David J. Reiss (Brooklyn) has posted Reforming the Residential Mortgage-Backed Securities Market, forthcoming in Hamline Law Review (2012).  The abstract:

This essay is a lightly-edited version of a talk given at the “Federal Housing Finance Policy, Secondary Mortgage Market Issues: Causes and Cures, Secondary Mortgage Market Reform” symposium at Hamline University School of Law. The issues that we are struggling with now are, in many ways, the equivalent of the issues that we struggled with during the Great Depression: what should housing policy look like and what decisions should be made in the next five years or so to bring us from crisis to stability? In all likelihood our answer to this question will define the housing market for generations. To help answer the question, this essay will proceed as follows. First, it will provide some context for American housing policy discussions. It will then outline three ethics that inform housing policy. The essay will then focus on one of the key issues that we face — what should happen with Fannie and Freddie as they exit conservatorship? It concludes by highlighting some of the other housing finance issues that must be addressed before we can move forward with a coherent plan of reform. These additional issues include, first, what is the future of the 30-year mortgage? Second, what is the fate of the lock-in, whereby a person could get a guaranteed interest rate prior to closing the loan? Third, what is the fate of the low-down-payment mortgage? Fourth, what is the appropriate role of the FHA in the context of the entire housing finance infrastructure, and in relationship to Fannie and Freddie in particular? And finally, how much will we allow the goal of increasing homeownership to impact the design of our housing finance system?

Matt Festa

May 19, 2012 in Finance, Mortgage Crisis, Mortgages, Real Estate Transactions, Scholarship | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Adler on the Declining Role of Navigability

Robert W. Adler (Utah) has posted The Ancient Mariner of Constitutional Law: The Declining Role of Navigability, forthcoming in Vol. 90 Washington University Law Review (2013).  The abstract:

For the first time in three decades, in its 2011-2012 Term the U.S. Supreme Court decided a case involving “navigability for title,” in which the issue of whether a river or other body of water is navigable determines whether a state has owned the beds and banks of the waterway since statehood. PPL Montana, LLC v. State, __ S. Ct. __, No. 10-218, 2012 WL 555205 (2012). The Court held that, in determining navigability for title, courts must focus on discrete segments of the river rather than the river as a whole, and that evidence of current navigability can only be used in limited circumstances to prove navigability at statehood. Under this ruling, as time passes it will become increasingly difficult for states to prove that a river was navigable at statehood, particularly where historical records are scarce.

The PPL Montana case, however, raises more fundamental questions about the continuing role of navigability as a central tenet of U.S. constitutional law, for which it serves several distinct but related purposes. In addition to the navigability for title test, slightly different navigability tests govern the geographical scope of federal authority under the Commerce Clause and the federal navigational servitude, and of Article III admiralty jurisdiction. Each of these doctrines dates to a time when rivers were our most important avenues of commerce. Waterways continue to serve as major avenues of commerce. Through the lens of twenty-first century science and values, however, rivers serve a much broader range of public purposes, such as water supply, biodiversity and habitat, fish and wildlife production, recreational use, flood control and watershed protection, and pollution assimilation. The role of navigability has declined accordingly for Commerce Clause purposes, but not for purposes of allocating public versus private proprietary rights in rivers and other waters. This article suggests that while navigability obviously remains relevant for some constitutional purposes, its role should diminish as the value of navigation as the main public function of waterways continues to decline relative to other public uses and values.

We've talked about the PPL Montana case in the past, and this article provides even further support for its significance.  The "navigable waters" question is going to be of continuing importance for both property law and constitutional law. 

I love the "Rime" reference in the title, too. 

Matt Festa

May 19, 2012 in Caselaw, Constitutional Law, Property Rights, Scholarship | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, May 18, 2012

Eagle on Judicial Takings and State Takings

Steven J. Eagle (George Mason) has posted Judicial Takings and State Takings, forthcoming in the Widener Law Journal.  The abstract:

In Stop the Beach Renourishment v. Florida Department of Environmental Protection, a Supreme Court plurality asserted that takings liability could arise from judicial acts, as well as from state or local legislation and executive agency decisions. The Plurality’s rationale supporting “judicial takings” was that the Just Compensation Clause of the Fifth Amendment applies to State acts, not to particular State actors.

This article starts by reviewing the doctrinal bases for the Stop the Beach plurality opinion. It provides prudential reasons why rulings affecting property rights might be legitimate under state law, but nevertheless constitute compensable takings under the federal constitution. It then analyzes the implications of the “state acts and not state actors” doctrine to existing regulatory takings law. Viewed through the lens of “state acts,” the rationales of the Supreme Court’s Williamson County “state litigation” prong and its Dolan “legislative vs. adjudicative” bifurcation are undermined. Similarly, takings distinctions pertaining to whether small-scale rezonings are “legislative” or “quasi-judicial” acts are drawn into question.

Matt Festa

May 18, 2012 in Beaches, Caselaw, Constitutional Law, History, Judicial Review, Property Rights, Scholarship, State Government, Takings | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

New Green Zoning Provisions in NYC

The Big Apple is now greener than ever.  On April 30, the New York City Council adopted some significant changes to its zoning code designed to promote distributed renewable energy and green building practices.  These Green Zone Amendments will make it  easier for New Yorkers to gain city approvals for small wind turbines, green rooftops, solar energy installations, skylights, and similar sustainable land uses on their properties.  The NYC Department of City Planning has posted some short descriptions of the amendments on its website.

Among these new amendments are provisions that encourage rooftop wind turbines on tall buildings and that relax height and other restrictions for solar panels.  It will be interesting to see whether the amendments are able to spur a major increase in small-scale wind and solar energy development in New York City in the coming years. 

To read a New York Times interview of an NYC city planning official and real estate developer on the potential impact of these new amendments, click here.

Troy Rule

May 18, 2012 in Clean Energy, Environmental Law, Green Building, New York, Smart Growth, Sustainability, Wind Energy, Zoning | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Jessica Owley is a Land Use Prof (welcome!)

Owley_jessicaWe are absolutely thrilled to welcome Professor Jessica Owley to the Land Use Prof Blog.  She's a law professor at the State University of New York's law school at Buffalo, and with her Ph.D. in environmental science and policy, she is involved in lots of interdisciplinary programs and activities.  Many of you already know her for her cutting-edge scholarship on conservation easements and other topics, or for her helpful involvement in various professional service activities.  She did some outstanding guest-blogging for us last year, but for those of you who may not be familiar with her blogging or her copius scholarship, here's her faculty bio:

Jessica Owley is an Associate Professor at the University at Buffalo Law School where she teaches environmental law, property, and land conservation. She joined the UB Law faculty after serving as assistant professor at Pace Law School from August 2009 to July 2010. She received her PhD in Environmental Science, Policy, and Management from the University of California-Berkeley in 2005, shortly after completing her JD at Berkeley Law in 2004.

Before entering academia, Owley practiced in the Land Use and Environment Law group at Morrison & Foerster in San Francisco. Prior to private practice, Owley clerked for the Honorable Harry Pregerson of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals and the Honorable Dean D. Pregerson of the Central District of California. Owley is a member of the California bar and admitted to practice in the Northern, Southern, and Eastern Districts of California and the Ninth Circuit.

Professor Owley's teaching interests are in the areas of property, environmental law, administrative law, and Indian law. While her general research is on land conservation and property rights, her current scholarship focuses on using property tools for conservation in the context of climate change.

The reference in the title is to Jessie's important guest post last year acknowledging that she really is a land use prof.  That epiphany speaks to a larger truth about our field, which is that property, land use, environmental law, and local government law are all part of the same web of related issues for legal analysis, study, and policy conversations.  We're delighted to welcome Prof. Owley on board, and we're looking forward to providing you with an even better forum to keep you interested in the broad array of important issues that constitutes land use.

Matt Festa

May 18, 2012 in Conservation Easements, Environmental Law, Property, Scholarship, Teaching | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Sun on Smart Growth in Dumb Places

Lisa Grow Sun posted this paper last year.  It should be of great interest to land users: Smart Growth in Dumb Places: Sustainability, Disaster, and the Future of the American City.  The abstract:

One of the many lessons of the recent earthquake and tsunami in Japan is that we cannot mitigate disaster risk through building codes and other structural solutions alone. Location is key to a community’s natural hazard vulnerability. Consequently, the most far-reaching and important question for disaster mitigation today is where we will channel the growth that will be needed to accommodate our expanding population. Yet, both environmental scholars and policymakers are promoting sustainability initiatives that will channel our country’s future growth into existing urban areas that are already extremely vulnerable to disaster. Indeed, many of these policies - and the legal tools used to implement them - are channeling growth, not only into particularly vulnerable cities, but into the riskiest areas of those cities. This Article is the first to identify and explore this critical tension between disaster mitigation and current sustainability policies.

The impact of current and future disasters on land use is a very important policy issue.  Sun offers a different take on the conventional wisdom--which I have indulged in too--that more urbanism is always better.  Sun suggests that we should be more discerning with our prescriptions.

Matt Festa

May 18, 2012 in Environmental Law, History, Planning, Politics, Scholarship, Smart Growth, Smartcode, Sustainability, Urbanism | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Smith on the Law of Neighbors

James Charles Smith (Georgia) has posted Some Preliminary Thoughts on the Law of Neighbors, forthcoming in the Georgia Journal of International and Comparative Law, Vol. 39, p. 757 (2012).  The abstract:

A fundamental characteristic of real property law, one that is definitional in nature, is that its subject matter consists of land parcels. A land parcel, in contrast to an ownership interest such as a fee simple estate, is not an abstraction. Each land parcel has a physical reality, and virtually all land parcels abut other parcels. Each parcel has one particular location, defined by its proximity to other pieces of property. The value of a land parcel depends heavily upon its location, and the nature of neighboring parcels has a major impact in determining that value.

Owners of neighboring parcels have sets of rights, privileges, and duties that define their legal relationships with neighbors. In Anglo-American law, those rights, privileges, and duties are components of real property law, but they are not a recognized category of real property law. Rather, they represent the application of general doctrines and rules to neighbors, instead of a distinct and cohesive body of law of its own. Other legal systems have developed distinct bodies of law to govern relations among neighbors.

The law of neighbors or “neighborhood law” is not presently a recognized type of law practice in the United States, and it will not likely become one anytime in the near future. In part this is the case because neighbor law disputes typically do not involve high financial stakes and resulting incentives for lawyers to market themselves as experts in the area. This Article suggests that if the field of neighbor law develops in the United States, academics will have to lead the way.

This Article does three things. First, it introduces the “stranger model” and the “friend model” of neighbors law, using these models as a frame for describing three components of existing U.S. law applicable to neighboring landowners. Second, it briefly describes the extent to which South Africa and Scotland have come to describe neighbors law as a discrete legal category, which correlates to the stranger model and friend model. Third, it concludes by making several suggestions on how the models may help in the construction of a coherent law of neighbors.

One of the challenges of land use and local government law is the perception that these issues are purely micro-- that everything we discuss is ad hoc, local, and not generalizable to the larger property law and policy issues.  Prof. Jim Smith makes a very important point with this piece: that we should make a full account for the legal aspects of living together in a community.  His suggestion for us to consider "a coherent law of neighbors" is compelling, especially given the current trends towards greater cognizance of neighborhood interests in land use decisions. 

Matt Festa

May 17, 2012 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Furman Center's State of New York City Housing & Neighborhoods

Last week the NYU Furman Center published its latest research on the State of New York City's Housing and Neighborhoods.

The Furman Center is pleased to present the 2011 edition of the State of New York City’s Housing and Neighborhoods. In this annual report, the Furman Center compiles statistics on housing, demographics and quality of life in the City, its five boroughs and 59 community districts.

This year we examine the distribution of the burden of New York City’s property tax, analyze the changing racial and ethnic makeup of city neighborhoods, evaluate the state of mortgage lending in New York City and highlight the Furman Center’s latest research on public and subsidized rental housing.

Here is a link to the full report:  http://furmancenter.org/files/sotc/SOC_2011.pdf

The Furman Center does the leading empirical analysis of land use policy today.  This report shows that "owners of New York City’s large rental apartment buildings are subject to a higher effective property tax rate than owners of one-to three-family homes, and bear a disproportionate share of the city’s overall property tax burden."  Very interesting stuff.  Thanks to Meghan Lewit for the link. Here is the web link to the project, and the full report is here.

Matt Festa

May 16, 2012 in Affordable Housing, History, Housing, Mortgages, New York, Property, Real Estate Transactions, Scholarship, Urbanism | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

What Would Jane Jacobs Do?

Regular readers know that we love the National Building Museum.  And any land use professional knows that we all love to talk about Jane Jacobs.  So here's an event that might be of great interest: Urban Forum: What Would Jane Jacobs Do?

Fifty one years after Jane Jacobs published her seminal book The Death and Life of Great American Cities, her ideas on liveable, walkable, and diverse neighborhoods continue to impact how urban environments are designed. A panel discusses Jane Jacobs’ legacy, including urban renewal, historic preservation, mixed-use zoning, and public space. Light refreshments will be served.

Panelists include:

  • Bing Thom, Bing Thom Architects 
  • Harriet Tregoning, director, Washington D.C. Office of Planning 
  • Susan Szenasy, editor-in-chief, Metropolis Magazine (moderator) 
  • John Zuccotti, co-chairman of the board, Brookfield Properties Corporation and former Chairman of the New York City Planning Commission

Free (but required) registration is available for the event on Sunday, May 20, 2012 at 10:00-11:30.  Check it out!  If you are able to go to WWJJD, I'd love to hear about it.

Matt Festa

May 16, 2012 in Architecture, Density, Downtown, Historic Preservation, History, Houston, Lectures, New Urbanism, Planning, Politics, Property, Urbanism | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Pipelines, Eminent Domain, and Property Rights

Up until now the Keystone Pipeline issue has been cast mainly as a contest between an economic development imperative and environmental conservation.  Legal commentators have analyzed it as an environmental issue.  As most people can infer, though, the notion of building an "infrastructure" project from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico will require some land rights.  Perhaps only in Texas can we see the underlying tension between two principles that are very often in direct conflict: the exploitation of oil and gas resources, and the property owner's rights to her land.  The New York Times last week did a fascinating story on one Texas landowner's fight against the eminent domain authority of the Keystone Pipeline, An Old Texas Tale Retold: The Farmer versus the Oil Company.

Ms. Crawford is worried about the possible contamination of her creek. She pointed out that the Keystone 1, TransCanada’s first pipeline, had a dozen spills in its first year of operation.

“I called my farm insurance agent and asked what happens if there’s a spill, I can’t water my crops, and my corn dies,” she said. “He said my insurance won’t cover that. I’d have to sue TransCanada for damages.”

The Crawfords are the last holdouts in Lamar County. (It is unclear how many are left in Texas; the company says it has 99 percent of the rights of way secured.) TransCanada asserts that it has used eminent domain only as “an absolute last resort” in an estimated 19 out of 1,452 land tracts in Texas. Critics dispute this number. . . .

Asked if she would take TransCanada’s offer now — if it meant the full $21,000, with all of her conditions met — she did not hesitate. “No,” she said. “There’s a $20,000 check sitting in the courthouse waiting for us,” she said. “But if we touch it, game over. We lose the use of our land, and we admit what they’re doing is right.”

This is a longstanding issue, both historically and today, but it often gets overlooked when people conflate Texas stereotypes about both property rights and solicitude for oil and gas.  Ilya Somin commented on the article at the Volokh Conspiracy, noting correctly that despite its pro-property rights reputation and cosmetic legislation, Texas law still empowers quite a bit of eminent domain for economic development purposes:

Such efforts are unlikely to succeed in Texas. As I described in this article, Texas is one of many states that have passed post-Kelo reform laws that pretend to constrain economic development takings without actually doing so. They might have a better chance in one of the other states through which the pipeline must pass.

The larger question that he poses is whether and how environmental concerns will play a part in future discussions about eminent domain and the never-ending debate over the essentially contested concepts of property rights and the common good.  In the real world of land use, the alignment of stakeholders, interests, policy preferences, and legal interpretations isn't always as easy to predict as the cartoon versions might imply.

Matt Festa

May 16, 2012 in Agriculture, Economic Development, Eminent Domain, Environmental Law, Environmentalism, History, Houston, Judicial Review, Oil & Gas, Property Rights, Scholarship, State Government, Takings, Texas | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Land Use at the UN--Sustainability in Developing Nations

If you're hanging around the United Nations tomorrow, consider attending this interesting panel that Dean-elect Patricia Salkin will be moderating on Sustainability in Developing Nations: Opportunity for Public-Private Partnerships.

On behalf of the Government Law Center of Albany Law School, please consider joining us for a special program at the United Nations on May 16, 2012 that focuses on sustainability and public private partnerships. 

The afternoon program includes Professor John Dernbach from Widener Law School (and his forthcoming book on sustainability will be released at the program), Professor John Nolon from Pace Law School and Professors Keith Hirokawa, James Gathii and Alexandra Harrington from Albany Law School.

The program is free and open to the public but an RSVP is required for security purposes.  The announcement is here: http://www.albanylaw.edu/media/user/glc/upcoming_events/051612_UN_Sustainability_Program_Flyerv2.pdf

Sounds fascinating.  Both property law and sustainability are among the keys to global progress over the next decades.  Thanks to Keith Hirokawa for the pointer. 

Matt Festa

May 15, 2012 in Comprehensive Plans, Conferences, Economic Development, Environmental Law, Scholarship, Sustainability | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Boudreaux on The Housing Bias

Boudreaux Housing BiasPaul Boudreaux (Stetson)--the original Founding Editor of the Land Use Prof Blog-- has published a book that addresses one of the most critical issues in American land use in the 21st century: The Housing Bias--Rethinking Land Use Laws for a Diverse New America (Palgrave MacMillan, 2011).  Here's the SSRN abstract:

As more than 300 million Americans squeeze into our country, and as single-person households now outnumber families of parents and children, it's time to rethink our land use laws that favor the single-family house. Our zoning laws were created in an age that assumed that nearly everyone outside of central cities preferred to live a house separated from neighbors; this assumption is no longer valid and no longer sustainable for a crowded nation. The Housing Bias explores the legal discrimination against apartment buildings and other forms of low-cost residences and how these laws make housing more expensive for modest-income Americans – a key factor in the development of subprime loans and other risky practices that eventually sparked our current economic crisis. Why do our laws prohibit the construction of low-cost housing? It is largely because existing homeowners prefer to exclude them – an astonishing example of law’s granting a legal privilege to wealthier citizens, a privilege that our nation can no longer afford.

This provocative book explores real-world 21st-century controversies of the housing bias. It visits the recent effort of Virginia suburbs to enforce “overcrowding” laws against mostly Latino families who migrated to the area to build new subdivisions, and then moves to New York, where eminent domain is used through a dubious interpretation of law to seize condominiums of middle-class families to build a new pro basketball arena. The book reports on the story of how laws requiring large house lots prevented the construction of a mobile-home community in a growing rural county in southern Michigan, and then examines the failed effort to legalize the widespread phenomenon of small “granny flats” in the backyards of the middle-class homes in the packed city of Los Angeles.

The Housing Bias concludes by exploring how we could update our laws to accommodate the housing needs of a diverse new America, in which half of all households now consist of only one or two persons. The prescriptions range from the complex, such as using state laws to override the power of local homeowners to zone out low-cost housing in certain zones, to the simple, such as facilitating the construction of apartments above suburban malls. It is useful for libraries and for college courses on society or law or for any intelligent reader. Written in an entertaining and jargon-free style, The Housing Bias is essential reading for understanding the flaws and the future of the American community.

One of the great things about land use is that it is fundamentally about places and their stories, and in this book Paul uses these examples to make a larger point about a critical issue of law and policy.  The Housing Bias is definitely worth reading and thinking about.

Matt Festa

May 15, 2012 in Affordable Housing, Books, California, Housing, Mortgage Crisis, Mortgages, New York, Planning, Property, Scholarship, Zoning | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, May 14, 2012

Owley on Neoliberal Land Conservation and Social Justice

Jessica Owley (Buffalo) has posted Neoliberal Land Conservation and Social Justice, Interational Union for Conservation of Nature Academy of Environmental Law e-Journal, 2012.  The abstract:

Private land conservation programs in North America tend to convey the greatest benefits to those who are already relatively well off in terms of land, wealth, and quality of life. For example, conservation easements — the fastest growing method of land protection in the United States — reward landowners with cash payments and tax breaks. At the same time, these programs tend to focus protected land in areas with low population densities. These benign sounding programs can hamper social services by reducing tax revenues and preventing the development of socially desirable amenities like affordable housing. This article describes the emergence of conservation easements as a land protection mechanism, situating it within the worldwide trend of neoliberal conservation and emergence of new environmental governance systems dominated by private actors. Specifically, this article examines the social justice concerns of conservation easements including questionable use of public funding, inequitable distribution of environmental amenities, and concerns about democracy and accountability. Rethinking conservation easement placement, use, and enforcement along with reducing or removing the tax breaks associated with them would alleviate, but not erase, some of the environmental justice concerns.

I have good reason to think that we might be hearing more from Prof. Owley soon.  Stay tuned!

Matt Festa

May 14, 2012 in Affordable Housing, Conservation Easements, Environmental Justice, Environmental Law, Local Government, Politics, Property, Scholarship | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Strategic “Blight” Designation in Missouri

As most land use professors are well aware, having land declared “blighted” isn’t always such a bad thing.    

The potential disadvantages of official “blight” designation are obvious.  Properties in declared “blighted” areas can be particularly susceptible to takings by eminent domain, as famously highlighted in Berman v. Parker, 348 U.S. 26 (1954).  Official designations of blight can also depress property values in some situations due to a perceived stigma commonly associated with blighted land.  

Why, then, would anyone want their real property to be declared “blighted”?  The reason, of course, is that officially blighted property can qualify for special tax benefits or programs in many jurisdictions.  If parcels are eligible for huge tax breaks only if they are officially labeled as “blighted,” then getting that label can suddenly be more a blessing than a curse.

An ongoing political debate in Columbia, Missouri, showcases this ironic aspect of redevelopment policy.  Missouri statutory law provides that new real property improvements in “enhanced enterprise zones” (EEZs) can qualify for generous property tax reductions.   Companies that invest in redevelopment within an EEZ can also receive state income tax breaks.  A group of government officials in Columbia have thus been seeking to have nearly half of the city designated an EEZ.  Unfortunately, EEZ designation requires that the entire EEZ area be declared blighted.  In Columbia, the proposed blighted area would encompass vast portions of the city where retail outlets are succeeding and businesses appear to be thriving. 

Sadly, those in favor of the EEZ proposal in Columbia argue that declaring half of the city to be blighted is necessary to enable it to compete statewide for new manufacturing and other jobs.  At least 118 Missouri communities--comprising one third of the land area of the state--have already declared themselves blighted to take advantage of the EEZ statute, giving them a leg up in attracting private redevelopment dollars. 

Should state redevelopment policies be structured such that local officials must declare large amounts of their communities to be blighted to have any chance of competing for private investment? 

Those interested in exploring this topic from an academic perspective will find plenty of published scholarship on LexisNexis or Westlaw to distract them from grading final exams for at least a few hours.  For a convenient launching point, consider Colin Gordon, Blighting the Way:  Urban Renewal, Economic Development, and the Elusive Definition of Blight, 31 Fordham Urb. L. J. 305 (2004).

Troy Rule

May 14, 2012 in Community Economic Development, Development, Economic Development, Eminent Domain, Local Government, Politics, Redevelopment, State Government | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)