Sunday, October 31, 2010

MORTGAGE & FINANCE: Rebate for staying current on 'underwater' mortgage

At payoff or sale, 'Responsible Homeowner Reward' can be sizable

In a recent column, we asked what lenders would do to retain good customers. We mentioned that there were loan modification programs available for borrowers in financial trouble. We also pointed out that some homeowners who accepted a "loan mod" simply defaulted again.

Tweet Be the first to Tweet this!Yahoo! Buzz ShareThis Many lenders have not even budged from their prepayment penalties -- the practice of charging a significant fee if the borrower cashes out the loan (typically refinances or sells) within a specific period of time -- even though other borrowers with inferior credit and poor payment histories have more attractive options.

Now, a private company is offering lenders a chance to help borrowers who continue to make their payments even though their loan balance is far greater than the value of their home. The plan could begin to reduce the mounting number of "underwater" borrowers who have simply walked away from their homes.

New Jersey-based Loan Value Group does not buy mortgages. The company makes its money by charging a lender or institutional investor a fee for keeping borrowers in their homes by offering the homeowner an incentive to stay put, known as a "Responsible Homeowner Reward."

The reward, approximately 10 percent of the mortgage amount, is paid to the homeowner when the house is sold or paid off. By doing so, the lender saves the costs of foreclosure and the difference between what it is owed and the foreclosure-sale price.

For example, a borrower with a $300,000 mortgage now owns a house worth $200,000. The lender does not want that borrower (and other customers) to walk away from the loan and face the prospect of losing $100,000 and trying to sell the home for $200,000.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

MORTGAGE & FINANCE: With interest rates at 1951 levels, refinancing is a surefire way to save money

The last time mortgage interest rates were as low as they are now you could buy a gallon of gas for 19 cents and a loaf of bread for 16 cents.

So what’s turned the home loan clock back to 1951? The government’s attempt to fix an economy that seems stuck in first gear. One benefit of the Federal Reserve’s low-interest strategy is cheap loans.

Borrowers can finance their home purchase for an average 4.2 percent on a 30-year fixed-rate loan, Freddie Mac reported.

That means a homeowner with a $200,000 mortgage at 6.07 percent could save more than $230 a month on principal and interest payments by refinancing.

“People are starting to think, ‘I don’t want to miss something that may be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,’ ’’ said Cass Chappell, a financial planner in Atlanta.

Applications for refinancing jumped 24 percent last week over the week before, the strongest pace since April 2009, according to Mortgage Bankers Association figures.

The 30-year fixed rate loan has been under 5 percent for more than five months, Freddie Mac said. The last time rates were that low was April 1951.

For those with an adjustable rate, now is a good time to lock in a permanently low rate.

Also, refinancing makes sense for homeowners with good credit scores who plan on staying in the home for several more years.

Here are some points to consider:

■ Shop around.

A good website to check is You’ll find the latest mortgage rates for your area, along with calculators. Talk with your current lender and make it clear you’re shopping around. In order to keep your business, your bank may cut or eliminate some refinancing costs, including application fees and charges for a title search or inspection. Avoid unfamiliar lenders that may draw you in with introductory interest rates and have hidden fees.

■ Lock in a rate.

And get it in writing. This is a guarantee you’ll get the current low rate while your loan is being processed. Locked-in rates typically are for 30 or 60 days. It’s a bit of a gamble; rates could go down during the several weeks it takes to process your loan. But it’s unlikely they will drop much further.

■ Don’t cash out.

Resist the temptation to cash out some of the equity you have accumulated. Your home is a long-term investment, not an ATM. If you borrow only the amount in the refinancing that you currently owe on your home, qualifying for a loan will be much simpler.

■ Do your homework.

Make sure you can document your income and be sure your house is worth more than you need to borrow. Get your credit report to avoid surprises.

David Pitt Boston Globe October 21, 2010

Friday, October 29, 2010

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LOCAL NEWS: Fort Point Channel hotel planned

A Boston developer wants to build an extended-stay hotel in the city’s Fort Point Channel neighborhood, which would continue the gradual transformation of the former industrial district. Norwich Partners LLC of Boston wants to convert a 110-year-old building at 368 Congress St. into a 120-room hotel with stores, according to an application the firm submitted to the city of Boston. The firm is buying the building from Berkeley Investments, which previously won approval to build offices on the property. Terms of the purchase are not yet public.

Norwich said the $45 million project will involve a complete renovation of the former Boston Wharf Co. warehouse, known as the Stillings Building, and will advance efforts to turn Congress Street into an active retail corridor. Several new cafes and restaurants have opened on the street in recent years, including a bar and two restaurants by prominent chef Barbara Lynch.

The Norwich Partners project still needs approval from the Boston Redevelopment Authority. The firm hopes to begin construction next year.

Casey Ross Boston Globe October 21, 2010

Thursday, October 28, 2010

MORTGAGE & FINANCE: Bondholders want bank to repurchase soured mortgages

NEW YORK — Pacific Investment Management Co., BlackRock Inc., and the Federal Reserve Bank of New York are seeking to force Bank of America Corp. to repurchase soured mortgages packaged into $47 billion of bonds by its Countrywide Financial Corp. unit, people familiar with the matter said yesterday.

A group of bondholders wrote to Bank of America and Bank of New York Mellon Corp., the debt’s trustee, citing alleged failures by Countrywide to service loans properly, their lawyer said yesterday in a statement that did not name the firms.

The New York Fed acquired mortgage debt through its 2008 rescues of Bear Stearns Cos. and American International Group.

Investors are stepping up efforts to recoup losses on mortgage bonds, which have plummeted in value amid the worst slump in home prices since the 1930s. Last month, BNY Mellon declined to investigate mortgage files in response to a demand from the bondholder group, which has since expanded. Countrywide’s servicing failures, including insufficient record keeping, may open the door for investors to seek repurchases by bypassing the trustee, said Kathy Patrick, their lawyer.

“We now are in a position where we have to start a clock ticking,’’ said Patrick, who is based in Houston. Recoveries for her clients, who own at least 25 percent of so-called voting rights in the deals, may reach “many billions of dollars.’’

MetLife Inc., the biggest US life insurer, is part of the group, said the people, who declined to be identified. TCW Group Inc., the manager of $110 billion in assets, expects to join BlackRock, the world’s largest money manager, and Pimco, which runs the biggest bond fund, in the group, the people said.

The group is among investors who are seeking to use misstatements by sellers, such as faulty appraisals, about the quality of loans packaged into securities to force repurchases, the people said.

Countrywide has not met its contractual obligations as a servicer because it has not asked for repurchases and is taking too long with foreclosures, Patrick said — either because of document or process mistakes or because it does not have enough staff to evaluate borrowers for loan modifications. If the issues aren’t fixed within 60 days, BNY Mellon should declare Countrywide in default of its contracts, she said.

Charlotte, N.C.-based Bank of America will “defend our shareholders’’ by disputing any unjustified demands that it buy back defective mortgages, chief executive Brian T. Moynihan said yesterday.

Most claims “don’t have the defects that people allege,’’ Moynihan said on Bloomberg Television, referring to so-called putbacks, in which guarantors or investors in mortgage-backed securities ask to return bad loans. “We end up restoring them, and they go back in the pools.’’

“We continue to review and assess the letter, and have a number of question about its content, including whether these investors have standing to bring these claims,’’ Bank of America’s chief financial officer, Charles H. Noski, said on a conference call with analysts. “We continue to believe the servicer is in compliance with the servicing obligations.’’

The letter covered 115 separate mortgage securitizations, with $105 billion in original balances, from “eight investors purportedly owning interests in these transactions,’’ Noski said.

Jody Shenn Bloomberg News October 20, 2010

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

MARKET TRENDS: Builders glum despite uptick

WASHINGTON — Builders are pessimistic about the housing market, but are seeing a little more foot traffic after the worst summer for home sales in a decade.

The National Association of Home Builders said yesterday that its monthly index of builders’ sentiment rose this month to 16, the first increase in five months. The index had been at 13 for the past two months, the lowest level since March 2009.

Readings below 50 indicate negative sentiment about the market. The last time the index was above 50 was in April 2006. This month’s reading was equal to June’s.

The index is broken into three readings, and all of them increased this month. Expectations rose by five points, the outlook for sales conditions improved by three points, and builders’ view of foot traffic increased by two points.

“Builders are starting to see some flickers of interest among potential buyers, and are hopeful that this interest will translate to more sales in the coming months,’’ said Bob Jones of Bloomfield Hills, Mich., the trade group’s chairman.

High unemployment, slow job growth, and tight credit have kept people from buying homes. The housing market suffered its worst summer in more than 10 years, despite the lowest mortgage rates in five decades.

This fall’s home sales may improve, but not by much. A huge backlog of foreclosed properties is dominating the market.

Plus, many of the foreclosures could be challenged in court because of revelations that banks evicted people without reading the paperwork.

Alan Zibel Associated Press October 19, 2010

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

LOCAL HOUSING NEWS: Watertown board OK’s housing along Charles River

After more than two hours of debate Wednesday night, the Watertown Planning Board voted 3-1 to allow a four-story residential complex along the Charles River to move forward.

The development, to be built by the Cresset Group at 140 Pleasant St., would contain 44 apartments — studio, one-bedroom, and two-bedroom units — and about 60 parking spaces. Four of the apartments would be rented at below-market rates to income-eligible tenants.

“We are in full compliance with all of the town’s ordinances for a project of this type,’’ said William York, a lawyer representing the developers. “This project is consistent with smart-growth principles, and will be an asset to the town.’’

Neighbors of the project objected because of traffic they expect it to generate. They said the project, while smaller than its original design, was still not in keeping with the scale of the neighborhood.

The plan is slated to go before the Zoning Board of Appeals in two weeks as its next step. Planning Board members asked the developers to present information to the zoning board about storm-water runoff and lighting concerns raised at the meeting last week.

“Residents who want to express more concerns about the plan are welcome to do so at the ZBA meeting,’’ said Watertown’s planning director, Steve Magoon. “Or they are welcome to contact my office at any time.’’

The Planning Department had rejected an earlier proposal for 48 units after officials decided it was too large for the neighborhood. Since then, Cresset Group president Ed Nardi said, his company had worked closely with the town to address the concerns. Drawings of the new plan, which has a lower roofline and is set back more from the street, can be viewed on the developer’s website,

Monday, October 25, 2010

MORTGAGE & FINANCE: Mortgage rates continue to fall

WASHINGTON — Rates on 30-year mortgages, pushed down by lower Treasury bond yields, fell this week to 4.19 percent, the lowest level in decades.

Investors are buying up Treasury bonds in anticipation of Federal Reserve moves designed to lower mortgage rates and yields on corporate debt.

As a result, the average rate for 30-year fixed loans dropped to the lowest level on records dating to 1971, Freddie Mac said.

The average rate on 15-year fixed loans fell to 3.62 percent, the lowest on records dating back to 1991.

Rates have fallen since spring as investors shifted money into the safety of Treasury bonds. That demand lowers their yields, which mortgage rates tend to track.

Low rates, however, have not helped the nation’s struggling housing market, which recorded its worst summer in more than a decade. But they have led to a surge in refinancing.

Associated Press October 15, 2010

Sunday, October 24, 2010

LOCAL NEWS: Harvard to resume expansion plan

Harvard Business School, which put its Boston expansion plans on hold because of the recession, is ready to start pouring concrete again. $50m gift will help fund new building.

Yesterday, the school revealed that it will spend $90 million to $100 million on a new executive education center, plus $15 million to $20 million to convert an Allston building into a laboratory for innovation and entrepreneurship.

“Together, they highlight a continued drive to invest in Boston,’’ Mayor Thomas M. Menino said at a news conference about the projects.

Menino said the Harvard announcement is the latest about a series of building projects in Boston that demonstrate a recovery in the local business climate.

The new building, to be named Tata Hall, will be funded in part by a $50 million gift from Tata Group, a technology and manufacturing conglomerate based in India. The gift is the largest Harvard Business School has ever received from a foreign donor.

Ratan Tata, chairman of Tata Sons Ltd., attended the school’s advanced management program in 1975. “I’m delighted that we are going to be here in name and also in spirit,’’ he said at the news conference.

In addition, Harvard will renovate the former Western Avenue home of public television station WGBH, converting it to an innovation laboratory.

The business school’s dean, Nitin Nohria, said the lab would bring in undergraduate and graduate students from throughout the university “to connect with our business school students and to create new ventures.’’

Nohria said the old WGBH building was “in a state of actually extraordinary disrepair. The roof is gone. The building has been vandalized.’’ Still, he said, he hopes the lab will be ready by fall 2011. He estimated that construction of Tata Hall would be finished by fall 2013.

Community activist Harry Mattison, a member of the Harvard Allston Task Force, which was founded by Menino in 2006, said Harvard should view the WGBH renovation as an opportunity to bring more economic development to the area.

“It has a potential to be a first step toward the renovation of Allston and Western Ave., which Harvard has talked about over the past decade,’’ Mattison said.

He suggested including retail space in the renovated building and urged Harvard to develop shopping and dining businesses on other nearby properties it owns.

The developments reflect growing confidence at Harvard about its fiscal health and the state of the economy. Last year, the university halted construction of a $1.4 billion science facility in Allston after the plummeting stock market ravaged the value of Harvard’s investments. “Nobody knew where the bottom was,’’ Nohria said. “Like everybody else in the world, we were rightfully cautious and prudent.’’

Now, Harvard is ready to build. “We have begun to recover,’’ Nohria said. “So we’re willing to make prudent investments again.’’ He stressed the business school won’t use borrowed money. “We’re only doing things today for which we have secure funding in place,’’ he said.

Hiawatha Bray Boston Globe October 14, 2010

Saturday, October 23, 2010

NEW CONSTRUCTION: Home building rises slightly, but market’s still weak

WASHINGTON — Home construction rose slightly last month, but the market was still too weak to propel growth in the battered industry.

Construction of new homes and apartments rose 0.3 percent from August to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 610,000, the Commerce Department said yesterday. It was the strongest report on home construction since April.

Housing starts are up 28 percent from their bottom in April 2009. Still, they are down 73 percent from their peak in January 2006, and they are 40 percent below the 1 million annual rate that analysts say is consistent with a healthy housing market.

The industry is “showing signs of stabilization and perhaps even a faint pulse,’’ wrote Joshua Shapiro, chief US economist at MFR Inc.

Construction was driven by a 4.4 percent monthly increase in single-family homes, the second consecutive increase for this category, which represents about 80 percent of the market.

Construction of condominiums and apartments fell by nearly 10 percent.

The number of building permits issued for homes, a sign of future activity, fell 5.6 percent from a month earlier to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 539,000. That drop, however, was driven by a 20 percent decline in permits for condominiums and apartments. Permits for single-family homes rose 0.5 percent.

That small increase, however, suggests “meaningful strength in the immediate future will not be forthcoming,’’ Dan Greenhaus, chief economic strategist at Miller Tabak, wrote to clients.

High unemployment, slow job growth, and tight credit have kept people from buying homes. The housing market suffered its worst summer in more than 10 years, despite the lowest mortgage rates in five decades.

Weak sales mean fewer jobs in the construction industry, which normally helps power economic recoveries.

Builders remain pessimistic about the housing market, although their mood has improved slightly since summer. The National Association of Home Builders said Monday that its monthly index of builders’ sentiment rose in October to 16, the first increase in five months.

Still, a reading below 50 indicates negative sentiment about the market.

This fall’s home sales may improve, but not by much. A huge backlog of foreclosed properties is dominating the market and providing competition for builders.

Construction activity rose 3 percent in the Northeast 5 percent in the South. It was down by 8 percent in the Midwest and 4 percent in the West.

Alan Zibel Associated Press October 20, 2010

Friday, October 22, 2010

LEGAL NEWS: In foreclosure? You may or may not need a lawyer, but being careful is crucial

The lawyers are starting to circle.

The latest twist in the foreclosure crisis has created an uncertain atmosphere ripe for exploitation.

At issue is whether banks improperly evicted borrowers from their homes by rubber-stamping reams of unchecked foreclosure documents. Federal and state regulators are investigating.

It’s a glimmer of hope for anyone on the brink of eviction and a troubling development for new owners of recently foreclosed homes. In this time of confusion, here are some key points to remember about working with a lawyer:

■ Spotting bad actors: In at least a quarter of loan modification scams reported in the past year to NeighborWorks America, a nonprofit housing group, victims said they were approached by a lawyer or someone posing as a lawyer. In other cases, scam artists turned out to be lawyers who were disbarred or unlicensed.

Scams typically lure victims with promises of big payouts. But any preemptive guarantee of a favorable outcome should be a red flag. The prevailing wisdom of the moment is that the unfolding saga will merely delay foreclosures.

Another warning sign is if you get an unsolicited call from a lawyer. American Bar Association guidelines prohibit lawyers from cold calling prospective clients. Written solicitations and prerecorded calls are OK, but need to be marked as advertisements.

■ Enlisting the right help: An attorney may not be necessary. If you want only to delay a foreclosure and your case is among those that have been suspended, that might give you the extra time you were looking for. But if you think your foreclosure is moving along improperly and want to contest it, professional help is probably a good idea.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

MORTGAGE & FINANCE: For many people, refinancing a home mortgage is the best way to get ahead

When it comes to debt, there are three kinds of Americans:

■ The debt-free. They receive interest on their savings. This is a small group.

■ The debt-ridden. They pay interest on their debts and receive no interest because they have no savings. This is a large group.

■ The in-betweens. They pay interest on some debts and receive interest on some savings. This is also a large group. Their eventual goal is to have the interest income they receive exceed the interest they pay.

Today, the first two groups are stressed. Those who are debt-free struggle because a major source of income is disappearing as yields decline. The debt-ridden struggle because it’s hard to pay down debt when your income from labor is in danger or shrinking.

But the people in between have a major opportunity — refinancing, especially of home mortgages. What you may not know is how powerful it is compared to all the alternatives.

Refinancing isn’t easy. It requires a lot of paperwork. But it can save you far more money than you’d earn on any interest-bearing investment. Indeed, a case can be made that refinancing is a better move than investing in the stock market, with far less risk.

Here’s an example: George and Sally Mugwump live in a $250,000 house they bought years ago. The mortgage balance is $150,000, at a rate of 5.5 percent. This year, they expect to pay about $8,250 in mortgage interest. They have no credit card debt and own their cars free and clear. They make regular investments in their 401(k) plans and have $10,000 in emergency cash.

Frustrated by a savings account yield of less than 1 percent at a bank, they moved their money to a bank offering reward checking. Now they earn 4 percent on their emergency cash account. Since they will earn $400 a year on the account, their net interest expense is down to $7,850.

They would like to do better.

Their best bet is a “refi’’ of their home mortgage. A refi that brought their interest rate down to 4.5 percent — easily done in the current market — would cut their interest expense by $1,500 a year. (It would also reduce their monthly payment, but that’s another story.) If the cost of getting the mortgage refinanced is 2 percent of the mortgage value, or $3,000, it will take only two years to recover their “investment.’’

Over 10 years they would save $15,000 in interest charges. That’s five times their initial “investment.’’ Can any other use of their money come close? Not likely.

It is possible that the stock market will double over the next 10 years. But there are also rumors of pigs learning to fly. Even if stocks doubled in value, the gain would be far less than rising to five times its current value.

Should you refinance? Yes, if you can do it at low cost and the payback is fast.

Scott Burns is a syndicated columnist, Boston Globe October 13, 2010

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

MARKET TRENDS: Signs of trouble

Greater Boston’s housing market might be facing a period of more instability, according to a study to be released today by New England’s largest community foundation.

The Boston Foundation report says the region’s housing market could get battered from two directions, with continuing economic woes depressing house prices and driving up foreclosures, and Boston’s burgeoning student population pushing up rents.

Barry Bluestone, director of the Kitty and Michael Dukakis Center for Urban and Regional Policy at Northeastern University and lead author of the report, said the Boston housing market was showing signs of emerging from the recession during the last half of 2009 and the first half of 2010; however, that progress could be threatened by a continuing weakness in the overall national economy.

Bluestone cited “disconcerting developments’’ nationwide, including the gross domestic product numbers, which fell sharply in the second quarter, and the growing ranks of the unemployed nationwide — both trends that threaten the troubled housing market.

Through July of this year, new home sales in the United States were running 8 percent below the same period last year, and 33 percent below 2008 levels. But with the end of the federal first-time home buyer tax credit in July, home sales nationally dropped 27 percent, double the consensus forecast. Foreclosures and bank repossessions nationwide have been running at record levels in 2010.

Bluestone said there are “too many disconcerting statistics that point to a continued weakness in the overall economy and the housing market.’’

Both Greater Boston and Massachusetts appear to be doing better than the nation as a whole on a range of economic indicators. For example, as of August, when the US unemployment rate was 9.6 percent, it was at 8.8 percent in Massachusetts. But, Bluestone said, “We are not an island unto ourselves. If the national economy continues to suffer, we will suffer its tailwinds.’’

Despite the sluggish economy, “anemic’’ new housing construction and a steady rise in student population have combined to drive rental prices “near their all-time high,’’ according to the Boston Foundation report. Normally, low vacancy rates and high rental prices occur in a strong economy; to have both in a weak economy is unusual, Bluestone said.

The rising cost of rental housing in Greater Boston is one of the major themes of the Boston Foundation study, its eighth annual Housing Report Card.

Bluestone said a number of factors are driving rents higher in the area. Many people who were evicted from foreclosed homes are now renting, and as credit remains tight, people are finding it harder to qualify for mortgages and make the transition from renting to home ownership. Finally, and most significantly, a boom in Greater Boston’s student population has swelled the market for rental apartments.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

MORTGAGE & FINANCE: New home, no money down

Amid criticism, zero-down-payment mortgages still available.

Jean Marie Sideris doubted she could buy a home near her job in Cambridge, because most lenders now insist on a hefty down payment for even a modest mortgage, and she did not have that much cash. But that was before Sideris, 33, found out about a state-sponsored program that requires only $1,000 toward closing costs.

Survey Should zero-down-payment loans be available?
In August, she became the owner of a $213,000, one-bedroom condominium, financed through MassHousing, the state’s affordable-housing bank.

“It made available places I wouldn’t have been able to buy,’’ Sideris said.

Home loans with little or no money down are viewed with skepticism these days, given that they were widely considered to have accelerated the nation’s foreclosure crisis by encouraging people to buy properties they could not afford long term. Most lenders have shied away from offering such mortgages in recent years. But a few government programs, such as the one sponsored by MassHousing, still exist.

“There is a path for low- and no-down-payment lending if you do it the right way,’’ said Thomas R. Gleason, executive director of MassHousing.

Gleason said 100 percent-financed mortgages serve qualified borrowers who don’t have tens of thousands of dollars to invest in a house, and provide a boost to the struggling housing market. The quasi-state agency, which is independently funded, began the program, Affordable Advantage, in July.

No-money-down borrowing represents a tiny fraction of the total number of mortgage loans in the state and country.

Under Affordable Advantage, borrowers must have a high credit score and minimal monthly debts, and agree to counseling on such matters as how they will manage monthly payments. So far, about 100 30-year, fixed-rate loans have been approved.

The program came under fire last month after critics said no-money-down borrowing could further damage the economy. It is made possible through an agreement with Fannie Mae, the troubled mortgage giant the federal government took over two years ago.

A top official at the Federal Housing Finance Agency, which oversees Fannie Mae, said recently that he plans to cancel the program after a contract between Fannie Mae and finance agencies — including MassHousing — expires in March. The loan product is available in three other states in addition to Massachusetts.

“I believe borrowers should have a down payment if they’re going to purchase a house,’’ said Edward DeMarco, acting director of the federal agency.

US Representative Barney Frank, a Newton Democrat and chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, agreed.

Monday, October 18, 2010

NEWS: Debating Massachusetts's Affordable Housing Law

State Representative William G. Greene Jr. supports the state ballot question to repeal Chapter 40B, saying it is high time Massachusetts scrapped its four-decade-old affordable housing law.

“It’s a law that doesn’t work to begin with and is tremendously destructive to the towns who developers decide to go in and build in,’’ the Billerica Democrat said. “It takes away any ability of towns to plan for their growth — the growth is at the whim of the developer.’’

Revere Mayor Thomas G. Ambrosino is among those who oppose the Nov. 2 ballot question 2, saying the affordable housing law has proven its value.

“I think Chapter 40B has been effective in creating affordable housing, which is an absolute need in the Commonwealth,’’ he said. “In its absence, I fear that affordable housing will take place only in dense urban communities and nothing will ever take place in any of the suburbs. That certainly is not a fair system.’’

Adopted in 1969, Chapter 40B is intended to promote the creation of affordable housing by allowing builders to bypass local zoning rules if their projects include affordable housing.

Under the law, developers whose projects do not comply with local zoning can seek a comprehensive permit from local zoning boards if at least 20 to 25 percent of the units meet state affordability guidelines.

If denied, the developer then can appeal the local board’s decision to the state Housing Appeals Committee, which can overturn it.

Communities whose housing stock is at least 10 percent affordable are effectively exempted from those appeals.

Statewide, committees for and against the repeal are working to sway voters to their sides.

John Belskis, an Arlington town meeting member who is leading the vote-yes campaign, said Massachusetts’s ranking of 47th among states in housing affordability is evidence that Chapter 40B is ineffective.

“It doesn’t work. It’s senseless. It’s a weapon to beat cities and towns into submission,’’ said Belskis, who also pointed to financial irregularities state Inspector General Gregory W. Sullivan has uncovered with some Chapter 40B projects.

But Francy Ronayne, spokeswoman for the campaign opposing Question 2, calls it a “very dangerous ballot question,’’ noting that 58,000 units of housing — 30,000 of them affordable — have been built under the law since its inception.

An additional 12,000 units — 3,000 of them affordable — are in the pipeline.

Ronanye, who works for the Boston public relations agency Solomon McCown & Co., also cited a recent study by the University of Massachusetts Donahue Institute showing that the law over the past decade has generated more than $9.25 million in economic activity and nearly 48,000 jobs.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

NEWS: US gives mortgage lenders hard look - Foreclosure fraud charges examined

WASHINGTON — The government is looking into allegations that mortgage lenders in the foreclosure crisis have been evicting homeowners using flawed court papers, US Attorney General Eric Holder said yesterday.

President Obama’s financial fraud enforcement task force has a mortgage component to it, Holder said during a news conference.

In a letter Tuesday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and dozens of Democratic lawmakers urged bank regulators and the Justice Department to probe whether mortgage companies violated any laws in handling foreclosures and borrowers’ requests for loan assistance.

In Ohio, Attorney General Richard Cordray is suing Ally Financial Inc. and its GMAC Mortgage division, alleging fraud that could involve hundreds of foreclosures in the state.

It could be the first in a wave of suits by state attorneys general over what appear to be widespread problems in documents used by the nation’s largest mortgage lenders.

“It certainly seems likely that other states will follow,’’ said Diane Thompson, counsel at the National Consumer Law Center.

The lawsuit by the Ohio attorney general claims the company’s employees signed and filed false affidavits to mislead courts. Cordray called the alleged fraud the “tip of an iceberg of industrywide abuse of the foreclosure process.’’

Gina Proia, a spokeswoman for Ally, said in an e-mail that there was “nothing fraudulent or deceitful’’ about the company’s practices.

“If procedural mistakes were made in the completion of certain legal documents, GMAC Mortgage reacted proactively to the situation,’’ Proia said. The company, she said, also believes its right to foreclose on borrowers who are in default is not in dispute.

In addition to Ally, JPMorgan Chase and Bank of America Corp. have halted foreclosures in 23 states after evidence surfaced that their employees or outside lawyers signed documents without reading them or filed inaccurate paperwork. State and federal officials have been increasing pressure on the industry over concerns about potential legal violations.

In Ohio, Cordray is asking for civil penalties of up to $25,000 for every violation of the state’s consumer laws and for the company to pay back any financial losses to the homeowner. He also wants the court to halt any Ally foreclosure or sale of property now pending in Ohio.

Cordray sent letters yesterday to four major mortgage lenders and servicers in Ohio — JPMorgan, Bank of America, Wells Fargo, and Citigroup — to find out more about their foreclosure processes.

Officials in Massachusetts, Maryland, Delaware, Texas, North Carolina, Connecticut, and California have already asked lenders to halt foreclosure proceedings while they review lenders’ practices.

Peter Yost Associated Press October 7, 2010

Saturday, October 16, 2010

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MORTGAGE & FINANCE: AG asks for halt to foreclosures

Coakley wants banks to prove they comply

Attorney General Martha Coakley called for a moratorium on Massachusetts home foreclosures yesterday in a letter to four major lenders, saying she wanted proof that each is properly reviewing homeowner foreclosure documentation as required under state law.

Coakley said she wanted Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase & Co., Wells Fargo, and GMAC Mortgage, a part of Ally Financial, to suspend foreclosures and sales of foreclosed properties after revelations that some lenders had signed off on foreclosures for thousands of homeowners in other states without reading or verifying the documents, a process nicknamed “robo-signing.’’

“If they’re not complying with the law, it doesn’t give consumers enough time or opportunity to modify the loan or do anything short of foreclosure,’’ Coakley said in an interview. “If that’s what’s happening, it’s pretty outrageous.’’

Officials at Wells Fargo and Bank of America did not return calls yesterday. A spokesman at JPMorgan Chase declined to comment. GMAC/Ally declined to comment on Massachusetts specifics.

“As we have previously stated, we are confident that the processing errors did not result in any inappropriate foreclosures,’’ Jim Olecki, GMAC/Ally spokesman, wrote in an e-mail. He said the company “takes this matter very seriously and are acting with urgency to resolve the issue.’’

Several large banks have halted foreclosures in 23 states that require judicial review of foreclosures, after evidence surfaced last week that employees were signing and notarizing foreclosure documents without reading or reviewing them. The banks, however, did not halt foreclosures in states that do not require judicial review, drawing the ire of public officials in Massachusetts and elsewhere.

In one of the strongest pushes so far for federal intervention into the problem, more than 30 House members from California have called on federal regulators to investigate whether mortgage companies broke the law by using paperwork that may have contained errors. Led by Representative Zoe Lofgren and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, the lawmakers have urged bank regulators and the Justice Department to initiate a probe into how borrowers’ requests for assistance have been handled.

Senator Robert Menendez, a New Jersey Democrat, has also asked more than 100 mortgage companies to determine whether foreclosure documents they approved contained errors and to reveal their findings. Attorneys general in Delaware and Texas called on lenders to suspend foreclosures until banks can ensure they have followed proper procedures. Last week, Attorney General Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut asked a state court to freeze all home foreclosures for 60 days.

Menendez and Democratic Senator Al Franken of Minnesota have also asked Congress’s investigative arm, the Government Accountability Office, to examine whether federal regulators overlooked the problems.

In Massachusetts alone, there were 2,713 foreclosure petitions in August, a 13.2 percent increase from August 2009, according to Warren Group, a real estate tracking firm in Boston.

Coakley has asked the banks to respond by Oct. 15.

Lewis Finfer, executive director of the Massachusetts Communities Action Network, a housing advocacy group in Boston, said he applauded Coakley’s leadership, because it could help struggling homeowners.

The banks’ actions “were instrumental in the foreclosure crisis and their hands have not been clean in this,’’ he said. “This is very serious. These are people’s homes at stake.’’

Megan Woolhouse Boston Globe October 6, 2010

Friday, October 15, 2010

NEWS: US offers mortgage aid to the jobless

Mass. homeowners could get $50,000; Some loans may not have to be repaid

Unemployed homeowners may be able to borrow up to $50,000 to help them make monthly mortgage payments — and in some cases not have to pay the money back — under a federal program unveiled yesterday that allocates $61 million to Massachusetts.

The zero-interest loan program will benefit several thousand homeowners in the state who are facing foreclosure because they lost their jobs and have depleted their savings. Nationwide, about $1 billion is being allocated to assist 50,000 homeowners struggling to keep up with their mortgages, said Shaun Donovan, secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

“Countless people who have lost their jobs through no fault of their own temporarily lack the steady income they need to pay their mortgage,’’ Donovan said during a news conference at Urban Edge Community Development Corp. in Roxbury. Nonprofit community groups such as Urban Edge will be involved in administering the program.

“We can fight foreclosures and unemployment and we can help our communities recover,’’ he said.

Long-term unemployment is now considered a primary reason for the escalating number of foreclosures in the United States.

The federal effort, called the Emergency Homeowner Loan Program, supplements a $7.6 billion campaign the US Treasury Department launched earlier this year to help out-of-work homeowners in 18 states, and the District of Columbia, that were hardest hit by the recession. The Treasury program also is aimed at homeowners whose mortgages are underwater, meaning they owe more than what their properties are worth.

The new HUD program announced yesterday expands assistance to the remaining 32 states, as well as Puerto Rico.

US Representative Barney Frank, who attended the news conference yesterday, said unemployed homeowners are innocent victims of the country’s foreclosure crisis.

Frank, a Newton Democrat, said he lobbied to get a $2 billion loan allotment for jobless homeowners included in the Dodd-Frank financial regulation overhaul Congress passed last summer, but the amount was later reduced to $1 billion. He said he hopes to increase funding for the program eventually.

“These are not people who made imprudent decisions,’’ Frank said. “These are people who made good mortgages. They made responsible decisions.’’

In some cases, the government loan could actually turn into a gift, officials said. Under the program, as much as $50,000 can be borrowed over two years, depending on the applicant’s qualifications. Borrowers who remain in their homes and stay current on mortgage payments for five years after that will not have to pay back all of the money; for those borrowers, the government will reduce their loan balance by 20 percent annually until it is eliminated, according to HUD.

The news of the mortgage-loan funding for Massachusetts was lauded by local housing advocates who have pressed the government to assist unemployed homeowners. The state’s unemployment rate is 8.8 percent, compared with 9.6 percent nationally.

During the first eight months of the year, 9,887 Massachusetts homeowners lost their properties to foreclosure, surpassing the 9,269 recorded during all of last year, according to Warren Group, a Boston company that tracks local real estate.

“These homeowners face unemployment largely due to the recession that was largely caused by speculation by big banks and Wall Street investment companies,’’ said Lew Finfer, executive director of the nonprofit Massachusetts Community Action Network. “Preventing foreclosures helps homeowners, helps lessen neighborhood deterioration and declining property values.’’

To qualify for a loan, borrowers must show their income is no higher than 120 percent of the Boston area’s median income, or $110,150 for a family of four. They are also required to provide documentation proving that their income has dropped at least 15 percent and that they are at least three months behind on mortgage payments.

Borrowers also must have a “reasonable likelihood of being able to resume’’ paying their mortgage after two years by proving they did not have a high amount of debt before they became unemployed.

Yesterday’s announcement was made as Massachusetts’ attorney general, Martha Coakley, urged four of the nation’s largest lenders — GMAC Mortgage, JPMorgan Chase, Wells Fargo, and Bank of America Corp.— to cease foreclosures in Massachusetts until they can prove that their paperwork is accurate. Last week, Bank of America became the latest national lender to say that it will temporarily halt foreclosure proceedings in 23 states that require a judge to sign off on bank seizures. Massachusetts does not require court approval for foreclosures.

At the Roxbury event, Donovan said federal regulators also want to make sure lenders are abiding by the laws governing foreclosures. “Nobody in this country should lose their house because of [a paperwork] error,’’ he said.

Mayor Thomas M. Menino of Boston, who also was at the news conference, said lenders need to work harder to help homeowners who are behind on mortgage payments.

“I believe they have an obligation to help the communities they are in,’’ Menino said. “That is not going on.’’

Jenifer B. McKim Boston Globe October 6, 2010

Thursday, October 14, 2010

JUST FOR FUN: Procrastination epitomized

Procrastination from ism studios on Vimeo.

LOCAL NEWS: Boston Properties gets Hancock Tower in $930m deal

The sale of the John Hancock Tower to a Boston-based investment firm yesterday marks a resurgence in demand for trophy office buildings as investors jockey for position in a slowly recovering commercial real estate market.

Boston Properties, which also owns the Prudential Building, bought the signature tower for $930 million, strengthening its hold on the Back Bay office market. The firm beat out several other bidders, including former owner Beacon Capital Partners of Boston, Vornado Realty Trust of New York, and Fortis Properties, also of New York, among others.

“The bidding was as fierce as anything I’ve ever handled during my 30 years in this business,’’ said Robert Griffin of Cushman & Wakefield, who brokered the deal for sellers Normandy Real Estate Partners and Five Mile Capital Partners.

The sale is a jolt to a sluggish commercial real estate sales market. The 62-story Hancock is just the sixth commercial building to change hands in the Boston area this year, down from a high of 54 at the top of the market in 2007, according to Jones Lang LaSalle, a real estate services firm.

“This is one of the biggest deals in the country in 2010,’’ said Michael Smith, a managing director of investment sales for Jones Lang LaSalle. “I’d like to say it shows the sales market is back, but it’s really an aberration. The velocity of transactions is still way down.’’

This is the fourth time the Hancock has changed hands in just the last seven years. It is also a dramatic turnaround for a building that was sold at a foreclosure auction in March 2009. That transaction valued the Hancock at $660 million, and Normandy and Five Mile Capital came in promising to attract new tenants and restore the building to its place atop the office market.

“We had a five-year plan, so we really didn’t know we’d be able to do it in 18 months,’’ said Finn Wentworth, a Normandy founder and principal. The firm earlier this year signed a game-changing lease with investment powerhouse Bain Capital for seven floors of the building. The lease increased the Hancock’s occupancy to 95 percent, putting Normandy in a strong position to unload it.

After the sale was announced yesterday, Boston Properties said it intends to hold on to the Hancock and stop the constant buying and selling of recent years.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

ARCHITECTURE: Architecture can very simply enhance city life

Lawrence A. Chan, the president of the Boston Society of Architects and founding principal of Chan Krieger Sieniewicz, is a man who has tackled some of the most complex design challenges in Boston. From the Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Greenway to City Hall Plaza to the Longwood Medical Area, he has distinct views of what a city should be and what his profession can accomplish. He sat down recently with reporter Casey Ross to discuss the development of Boston and ways to enhance its historic buildings and public spaces.

What got you into architecture and what are your favorite cities to visit in terms of their architecture and public spaces?

One of the reasons I got into architecture is that as far back as I remember, I had an awareness of my surroundings. I grew up in New York City. There was wonderful rich space and transparency where you could see the activities inside the buildings. It got me into thinking about cities and buildings and masses and open spaces. And when I go to cities now, I look for the type of environment that showcases their urbanity. If it’s Rome, it’s the wonderful narrow alleys that go from one place to another and then spill out into wonderful public squares. Or in New York, it’s the wonderful activities along many urban streets, and then you walk into a marketplace and go through to another little street. Those are the things I look for, not the specific signature pieces of architecture. Of course, those are wonderful to look at. But the elements that interest me the most are those public realm things where the life of the city unfolds.

How can Boston officials and developers be moved to implement some of the bold ideas architects have proposed to enliven City Hall Plaza and places like the stalled Filene’s site?

All it takes is some political will and some financing. Architects come up with a lot of interesting ideas that people very often aren’t aware of. One example is a recent public art project on the Greenway called the Big Hammock, designed by Hansy Better Barraza. It looks like a sculpture piece. It’s just out there, and people see it, and they’re just jumping on it. They’re engaged in it. And they’re probably not aware that an architect did this. It’s those little touches that really connect architects to the environment, architects to people, and people to a design object.

What do you foresee in terms of architects’ involvement in trying to increase activity on the Greenway and other prominent public spaces?

My firm did the original master plan for the Central Artery parks back in 1990. Our idea was to say, “Here you have this Greenway, this physical highway scar. If you take away that scar, you still have a scar that separates the downtown from the waterfront.’’ So we took Copley Plaza, our biggest public space, and we put it on the Greenway. We put seven Copley Squares on the Greenway, and in between some of these squares, we said, “Put the fabric of the city back.’’ And then all the buildings around the space would give it an identity. So when you walk from here to there, you’d be walking by shops and restaurants. There would be activity, and you wouldn’t feel like you’re just walking through this windswept expanse. So that was our plan in 1990. Unfortunately, once some public official said it was greenway, it was sort of like apple pie, American flag, and motherhood. You could not take it back. The big challenge now is to make it feel more intimate.

Boston, like most cities, has buildings that are representative of many different eras and styles. How do we preserve that diversity of design when the knee-jerk call of redevelopment is always to tear down and build new?

It’s entirely possible to do both, to preserve historic buildings and build new. There are many great examples of doing that, renovating Trinity Church and building a community room in the basement. Modern buildings can tolerate a lot more intervention than let’s say the White House, which is a pure object that’s classical. It’s very hard to imagine tacking on something new to it. When you look at some of the most successful cities around the world, modern buildings live very happily next to historic buildings. Even look at some of the historic buildings in Rome, things that are hundreds of years old. They’ve had all sorts of additions. St. Peter’s Church has had many additions tacked onto it. Depending on the ability of the architect and the circumstance and peoples’ acceptance of how things can be married together, it absolutely can be done.

Can such interventions work at Boston City Hall. Is it a building worth preserving?

First of all, it’s a really well-built building. And if you want to be contemporary about it, the energy required to tear down the building is astronomical. That would not be sustainable at all. It’s silly to even think about. It’s a building that can tolerate — and I think the original architect would confirm this — all sorts of intervention that could make the building function much better and improve it. There are plenty of issues to address, not least being the subway tunnel beneath the plaza, but it’s all solvable.

Is the movement toward green building limiting architects’ design latitude and is it having a chilling effect on new development?

I’m old enough to remember and be part of the first Earth Day in California. I was a graduate student when the first Earth Day happened. I like to think that today all those hippies are in a position that they can implement and manage a lot of [environmental] issues now coming to the forefront. A lot of these issues should be automatic. They should be part of our thinking that this is the right thing to do. It’s right for the environment. It’s right for health and all the other issues involved. You’re either going to pay for it now, or you’re going to pay for it later. The more using green materials becomes part of our daily lives and professions, it won’t be an extra cost. It’s a huge investment in our future, because we won’t spend as much on fossil fuels, we’ll improve the air environment, we’ll reduce the carbon footprint.

The construction slowdown has put a lot of architects out of work. Do you see any signs of improvement?

We are a service industry that is very much tied to the economy. So when times are good, we’re very busy. When there’s a slowdown, things are tough. But there are some positive signs. There are more building inquiries and permits being sought by developers. If people see a light at the end of the tunnel, they want to be prepared for that eventuality, so they’re planning, and that’s a very good sign. There has been some downsizing, but I think architecture is a very resilient profession.

Casey Ross Boston Globe October 3, 2010

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

LOCAL NEWS: Woburn firm buys stalled Westwood Station project

A Woburn real estate development company has bought Westwood Station, a mixed-use development on 140 prime acres in Westwood that has languished for more than five years after its former owners’ dream for the site died when the economy declined.

Eastern Real Estate LLC’s deal to buy Westwood Station was finalized Thursday night, after it acquired the note-in-lieu-of-foreclosure from Anglo Irish Bank and equity partner Commonfund Realty, which had worked with the site’s former owners, New England Development and Cabot, Cabot & Forbes.

The purchase price was not disclosed.

Nancy Hyde, chairwoman of Westwood’s Board of Selectmen, said the town is optimistic the sale will lead to the resumption of development. The state has promised $55 million in infrastructure funding for the project, including roads.

“We look forward to establishing a strong working relationship with Eastern,’’ Hyde said.

At 4.5 million square feet, Westwood Station was pegged in 2006 as the country’s largest planned mixed-use development, combining boutique retailers and hotels, upscale living and dining options, and commercial space. But as funding hopes tanked, the project’s first phase, 2.6 million square feet, was downsized to less than 500,000 square feet of big-box and smaller retail stores.

The new owners said the purchase is an opportunity to reenergize the project.

“Eastern recognizes the extensive work that has gone into the planning of Westwood Station, and we look forward to advancing the project so that the associated benefits to the community and the region can be realized in a timely fashion,’’ Daniel J. Doherty III, one of the 10-year-old company’s principals, said in a statement.

Michele Morgan Bolton Boston Globe October 2, 2010

Monday, October 11, 2010

BUYING & SELLING: Swanky parties lure high-end buyers

Invitation-only gatherings help market condos

It’s a balmy evening and scores of stylish Bostonians are sipping blueberry martinis on a sprawling terrace overlooking Fort Point Channel. Inside, a photographer explains the architectural links between Boston and Paris. Guests mingle in the stunning space, accented by his black and white photos of Boston. As if on cue, the city twinkles through the floor-to-ceiling windows.
Welcome to a new kind of target marketing, aimed at luring people with money to upscale properties that have been slow to sell. Forget wine and cheese. At tony addresses across town, real estate professionals are hosting art salons, rooftop yoga classes, and chic cocktail parties with food courtesy of celebrity chefs.

“The old days of marketing where you just hope that people show up and buy are over. In this climate we have to be more nimble,’’ said Joseph Laurano, director of operations for Berkeley Investments, which developed and markets the swank FP3 condominium complex near Boston’s waterfront.

Along with its neighbor, Art New England, a block away, FP3 will host two art salons this month. One will turn a penthouse into a screening room and another into a lounge where hip, arty, and moneyed invitees can rub shoulders with local filmmakers.

“It’s difficult to keep a property that has been on the market fresh and top of mind. These events are creative and fun. It’s very helpful for us,’’ Laurano said.

At the sleek W Boston Hotel, the 20th floor — one of 12 floors built as residences — has been turned into a mini design center. Otis & Ahearn, a marketing and brokerage firm, tapped seven of Boston’s top interior designers to each furnish a unit. These deluxe dwellings have custom blown-glass light fixtures, original art, and epic views. Instead of putting them directly up for sale, however, real estate marketers are holding exclusive events for a captive crowd.

“Part of it is buzz,’’ said Kevin Ahearn, president of Otis & Ahearn, who held his first such event for Boston Common Magazine last spring. “But it is really direct selling. We are actively trying to motivate these people and talk about [the property] in a positive way to equate into a sale.’’

Sales of high-end properties appear to be picking up this year, after dropping dramatically from a peak of 1,657 in 2007. Through the end of August, there were 848 sales priced from more than $500,000 to $10.8 million, according to Warren Group, a Boston publisher of real estate data. The activity is on track to outpace 2009, when 710 upscale properties sold in the same period.

Thursday night, about 100 architects, builders, and lighting designers filtered through fully furnished condos at the W, snapping pictures and cooing at the space. They were there for a networking event put on by the Designers Lighting Forum of New England.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

MORTGAGE & FINANCE: 30-year mortgage rate sinks to 4.32%

WASHINGTON — Rates on 30-year mortgages have matched the lowest level in decades, while rates on 15-year loans dropped to their lowest point in nearly 20 years.

Yesterday, mortgage buyer Freddie Mac said the average rate for 30-year fixed loans fell to 4.32 percent, the lowest on records dating back to 1971. That’s down from 4.37 percent the previous week.

The average rate on 15-year fixed loans fell to 3.75 percent, the lowest on records dating back to 1991.

Rates have been at or near the lowest levels in decades since spring as investors poured money into the safety of Treasury bonds, lowering their yield.

Also, Congress has extended a policy that allows homeowners in pricey real estate markets to secure government-backed mortgages of nearly $730,000.

Lawmakers voted to keep the maximum size of loans guaranteed by Fannie Mae and Freddie and the Federal Housing Administration at the current level through the end of 2011.

Associated Press October 1, 2010

Saturday, October 9, 2010

JUST FOR FUN: Talking To The Oldest Man On Earth

An interview with Walter Breuning, who celebrated his 114th on September 21st:

LOCAL NEWS: Builder says work on apartments to start in spring if city OK’s increase

After a seven-year delay, the developer of a 29-story residential complex in Chinatown says construction will begin next spring if the city approves a one-third increase in the number of apartments on the property.

Kensington Investment Co. now wants to build 395 apartments in a pair of towers at the corner of Washington and LaGrange streets, the site of the former Gaiety Theatre. The theater was torn down in 2004 to make way for the development, but Kensington has struggled to secure funding.

In a new filing made public yesterday, the company said approval of the additional apartments — a prior plan called for 300 units — will allow it to “re-enter the financial market with a project tailored to the real estate market of the forthcoming decade.’’

Kensington executives declined to comment beyond their filing with the city, which indicated the company plans to close on financing to begin construction between April and June of next year. When the project was first approved in 2003, it was valued at $115 million.

The firm is the latest developer to try to revive a large project in the city by proposing construction of apartments, the only product type that lenders have been willing to finance in recent months. The owners of the nearby Filene’s block are also pitching apartments for that property, as are builders of proposed developments near North Station and in the Seaport District.

“If you are looking at new development, the only thing you can get financing for is multifamily rental,’’ said David Begelfer, chief executive of NAIOP Massachusetts, a commercial real estate association. “I would like to say it’s the sweet spot in the market, but it’s really the only spot in the market.’’

Kensington’s revised proposal was welcomed yesterday by the Boston Redevelopment Authority, which has been pushing to revive stalled projects. “This project will greatly benefit the city with the addition of hundreds of new construction jobs, taxes, and almost 400 new units of housing,’’ BRA director John Palmieri said.

The apartments would be contained in a pair of towers joined over a common ground floor with space for a lobby, a restaurant, and offices. The project includes upgrades to Boylston Square and Liberty Tree Park.

The new plan also calls for a reduction in parking spaces to 160 from 245. The spaces would be spread among two underground levels and three above-ground levels.

Casey Ross Boston Globe September 29, 2010