Archive | May, 2010

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State Launches Online Directory Of Veterans Memorials


HARTFORD — Connecticut now has asearchable online directory of locations and pictures of veterans memorials.

The digital directory aims to help state residents find the memorials and encourage interest among those  who want to honor veterans in the state.

The town-by-town directory was inspired by the family of a Connecticut soldier who died in action, state officials say. 

The directory can be found on the state Department of Veterans Affairs website.

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CT Foreclosure Filings Up, Many Stuck in Court Mediation


By Wendy Innes and Andrew White, Staff Writers

HARTFORD —  Roberto  Rodriguez  is knee deep in foreclosure-related paperwork, sorting out fax receipts from folders he has stacked in his two-bedroom condominium in Windsor.

His papers date back to May 2008 when he first sought help to avoid an impending foreclosure. But help didn’t come soon enough. Six months before Wells Fargo filed foreclosure paperwork in New Britain Superior Court, Rodriguez  contacted the bank’s bill collector, America\’s Servicing Company, and sought ways to overcome his unfortunate situation. First, he was underemployed, then unemployed. Then his mother died, and he lost his job. But the bank did not offer a solution. He then learned about a Connecticut Housing Finance Authority’s Housing Fair in late spring 2008. While there, he talked to someone at Department of Banking, which in turn referred him to Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now ( ACORN)  and Neighbohood Assistance Corporation of America (NACA) programs. Both program representatives in 2008 requested financial information and other personal documents after telling him they had a record of getting modifications for their clients.  To date, Rodriguez  has yet to get a help from  ACORN  or NACA.

Then in May 2009, the bank filed foreclosure papers and Rodriguez applied for foreclosure mediation. Since then he has been in mediation. Armed with his fax receipts of paperwork he sent to the bank, he would meet with the bank’s lawyers from Hunt, Liebert and Jacobson, P.C. Each lawyer would have a different story. They didn’t receive the paperwork. After he produced the fax receipts, they would tell him to refax the information and wait. He would wait only to hear on his second and third meetings that his paperwork was still being reviewed. And by the time the paper work was processed, he was told to refax the information—again.

“I don’t think there is any good faith effort in these mediation sessions,” Rodriguez  says. “They are playing ridiculous games that even a five-year old can decipher. How can you mediate with someone who doesn’t want to mediate?”

In March, there was a 22 percent spike in new foreclosure filings statewide, according to  RealtyTrac, a foreclosure tracking firm that gives monthly state by state foreclosure trends.  In April, that number rose again by 4.4 percent, with another 2,915 new foreclosure filings.  In Hartford county alone the number  is down almost 3 percent from the previous month but up almost 13 percent  from the previous year with one in every 593 housing units in some stage of foreclosure, including those who are stuck or are on their way to being stuck in mandatory mediation. According to the latest number released by the mediation program, about 10, 000 homeowners are in Connecticut’s mandatory court mediation program—and in limbo.

“It is a significant number,” says Foreclosure Mediation Program Manager Roberta Palmer. “But saying people are in limbo is, I guess, accurate, but they are in a much better place because their homes cannot be foreclosed on.”

Rising Mortgage Defaults, Rising Frustration

Industry experts at first linked rising default rates across the country to looser lending in the subprime market, which provides mortgages to people with poor credit or low income. Some were drawn in by initially low teaser rates, and then when the low-interest rate period ended, they got stuck and realized they can’t pay the loan,” says Erin Kemple, executive director of the Connecticut Fair Housing Center, a Hartford-based nonprofit organization that advocates for fair housing.

Because subprime lending in Connecticut appears to be concentrated in urban areas, the rise in foreclosure filings raises concerns about deteriorating rates of home ownership in city neighborhoods, Kemple, says.

“People have gotten into loans that have unaffordable terms,” she says. “We would call them predatory; not everyone would.”

Concentration of Foreclosures in Urban Areas

Now, the foreclosure crisis is also driven by people who lost their jobs. And they are turning to the courts for help.

Connecticut’s mandated mediation program is a judicial process that allows homeowners to meet with a representative who has the authority to negotiate for the lender. The mediator’s role, Palmer says, is to ensure there’s an accurate review of homeowner’s financial information and to  make sure the federal guidelines are accurately applied.  The Lender may reduce interest rate, fixt interest rate, extend the term of loan and/or reduce principal balance. Or the homeowner may qualify for the Home Affordale Modification Program (HAMP) where the federal government help with some of the arreagage and mortgage payments. However, some homeowners may still lose their homes after their paperwork is reviewed. These would receive “graceful exists” such as short sales, deed in lieu of foreclosure or an extended sale date.

But some who are considered qualified  for what’s called the Obama plan or HAMP, never get to the end of the process, housing advocates say, because lenders come unprepared to sessions and are usually unaware of the guidelines and how to apply them.

Foreclosure Attorney Keith Fuller places most of the blame for the delays with the lenders. Fuller supports the program, but says that banks are making it difficult for the homeowners.

“I find that it takes a lot of these banks a while to do a full review of a loan for modification. By the time they get around to putting all the pieces together to analyze it for a full modification, the last financial information that’s been submitted is outdated.” Fuller says.

According to Fuller, it takes the bank 60-90 days to review all of the required information and by the time their review is complete, the information is no longer considered valid and the bank requests the information again.

“It’s sort of this cycle that goes on and on,” he says. “It’s extremely difficult and really emotionally taxing for these people to go weeks and weeks or months and months without a straight answer from the bank because from their perspective, it’s confusing to know what the bank is doing.”

In addition, borrowers will call their lenders only to find that the information that they had sent in weeks before has disappeared.  Fuller expresses his frustration for his clients’ situations, “In this information age, it seems to me, that the banks should be a little bit more organized in collecting all this information.”

Eugene Melchionne, foreclosure attorney and chairman of the National Association of Bankruptcy Attorneys in Connecticut is a critic of the program, and he champions federal intervention in bankruptcy court.  Melchionne also represents homeowners who are stuck in the foreclosure mediation process.  

“The oldest mediation I have now is easily going on a year and a half,” he says.  “The mediators don’t really have any power to be able to force banks to cooperate fully. Security is “the primary reason why people buy houses. Clearly those stuck in limbo, waiting to find out if they will keep their home have little of that.”

But there is a silver lining here. That’s because to being in limbo, Palmer says, is better than being out of the house. She says the court is aware of the frustration level on both sides and how burdensome it is for mediators as their caseload grows.

The court, however, is resolute on one matter. “We won’t let those cases out of mediation until we get an answer one way or the other on whether or not they qualify on any settlement,” Palmer says.

Mediation, A Success Story

Connecticut’s mediation session is touted as a model for other states across the country. In February, the program  boasts a success rate of about 60 percent. But some question the accuracy of that number. Attorney Melchionne says that the statistics put out by the court don’t tell the whole story. The court only tracks those people who have completed the mediation process. There is no data on those who are in limbo. In addition, Melchionne says,  his clients are making payments under temporary modification, but are continuing to be reported as late on their credit reports and receiving notices from the banks that their homes are going to be foreclosed on.  

“They’re showing a huge success rate, but they’re counting people who are leaving their homes as successes,” he says.  When asked what he would define as a successful mediation, he says that homeowners staying in their homes are what he considers a success.

Matt Silverman, a Boston-based businessman who was  banking specialist for 10 years, agrees with Melchionne. Silverman says the state’s program has a phenomenal success rate and is too good to be true.

“I’d like to see that number verified because it would be the most successful program in the nation, especially when compared with about a 5 percent success rate everywhere else,” Silverman says. “If a program like this is working that well, they should be talking with the Obama administration’s highest officials to roll out … a national program that finally solves the housing crisis.”

Silverman offers a free online course at www.hopeforfree.org. This site helps homeowners with how to package their story for the lender and how to find a lawyer experienced in debt negotiation, he says.

The state also has measures to help homeowners stuck in limbo, thanks to the works of housing advocates such as Connecticut Housing Center. They recognized early on the limitation of the mediation program and have been pushing for state officials to strengthen the program. advocates say. As a result of their work, the General Assembly in May passed a bill to extend the state’s foreclosure mediation program for two years. The bill promises to punish lenders and servicers who come to the mediation unprepared to do good faith negotiation.

The new bill will take effect on July 1. 

Helpful Links:

Connecticut Housing Finance Authority

Connecticut\’s Forelcosure Mediation Program

Mortgage Law Network

Editor’s Note: Roberto  Rodriguez  is a pseudonym for a person who wants to remain anonymous. The name and other identifiers have been changed to protect the person’s identity.

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Greater Hartford Museums Offer Free Admissions


HARTFORD —  Beginning this Memorial Day, the Greater Hartford area museums will offer free admission this summer to active duty military members and their families.

Thanks to  “Operation Appreciation: Blue Star Museums,” the state has found “one more way to say a collective “Thank You” for their service to our country,” said Gov. Jodi Rell in a statement yesterday.

” This initiative also opens more doors of opportunity for the public to enjoy and appreciate culture and arts in Connecticut,” Rell said.

The campaign is a collaboration between the National Endowment for the Arts and Blue Star families, a nonprofit group that supports U.S. military families.

The promotion runs from  May 31 through Labor Day, Sept.  6.

The participating museums are: 

Harriet Beecher Stowe Center, Hartford 

Imagine Nation Museum, Bristol

New Britain Museum of American Art, New Britain

Stanley-Whitman House, Farmington

Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, Hartford

 
 

 

For more information on participating museums visit

http://www.arts.gov/national/bluestarmuseums/index.php?st=CT#list

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Hartford Explorers Capture Awards


HARTFORD — Twenty youth police officers recently captured top awards from a New England law enforcement competitions.

Captains Michael  Rivera and  Kelvin Ruiz were awarded first place for building searches while Lieutenant Matt Lewis and Explorer Cristal Marie Reyes garnered second place for domestic disputes and Explorer Rickan Williams and Explorer Evelise Morales won first place in reported assaults. 

The winners wer among  the other Hartford Police Explorers who participated in a statewide competition against other Explorers and Cadets from the greater New England area in a Stations Day Competition sponsored by the Northeast Regional Law Enforcement Educational Association, Inc.

 During this event, teams of participants competed in scenarios in which they have been received training.  Some scenarios included mock domestic violence incidents, a physical agility obstacle course, building searches, motor vehicle stops and high stress scenarios. The teams were then graded on their performance and the best 3 best overall teams received an award for their accomplishments. 

The explorer program was developed to provide local youths a hands-on opportunity to learn about the law enforcement profession.  The program also attempts to develop youth between the ages of 14 and 20 by instilling self respect for themselves and others, teaching the importance of team work, developing their senses of responsibility and accountability, developing leadership skills, and promoting citizenship and community service.

For more information about the Hartford Police Department’s Explorer Program please contact Detective Nikki Mordasiewicz at 860-757-4247 or visit the Hartford Police Department’s website at www.hartford.gov/police.

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Community Groups Hold Banks Accountable


New America Media, News Report, Anuja Seith

San Jose, Calif. — Last Friday, when the Bank of America opened a new branch on King Road in East San Jose, protestors holding white flowers in their hands gathered outside the building. The flowers, organizers said, symbolized the community’s loss of faith with the bank.

East San Jose is at the epicenter of the foreclosure crisis in the Bay Area.

People Acting in Community Together (PACT), an affiliate of the People Improving Communities through Organizing- (PICO) National Network, organized the event, and brought about a dozen people together who planned to divest from the Bank of America. While PACT is focusing on San Jose, PICO, a national network of faith-based community organizations, is taking initiatives in other parts of the country. Vice Mayor Judy Chirco and candidates running for district 5 City Council attended the event.

District 5 candidate J. Manuel Herrera said he has had an account with the bank for almost 40 years, “I declare my intent to divest from Bank of America within 30 days,” he said. “It is no longer acceptable for banks to solely focus on their profits with no consideration for community and environment.”

The action in San Jose stemmed from a survey PACT did last year in their congregations to assess how the foreclosure crisis had affected them. The survey revealed that when it comes to loan modifications, Bank of America had the worst record in the community. The protestors claimed that Bank of America was not using the money available through Obama’s Home Affordable Program (HAMP) to keep families in their homes.

Protestors said that the money they moved out of Bank of America would be invested into more socially responsible institutions. “We realize bank accountability is a larger issue, so we are encouraging congregations, individuals, cities and counties to look at how banks are serving their communities,” said Lucy Kolin, national spokesperson for PICO. “If we can get more and more money out of these big banks then we can catch their attention.”

According to Adam Kruggel, executive director of Contra Costa Interfaith (CCISCO), which is a member of PICO National Network, “The initial plan for this strategy stemmed from the fact that families and congregations were tired of banks using (their customers’) money to exploit our communities.

“Our idea is that the congregations and large institutions — unions, schools, universities, pension funds, local and state governments — should start moving their deposits and investments out of banks that are not working to keep families in their homes.”

The network is working to identify banks and credit unions that are committed to ending predatory lending.

Gina Gates and Mercy Martinez, both PACT leaders, had moved their money out of the Bank of America and put it into credit unions in their communities. “This was the same bank that is giving huge bonuses to its executives but wouldn’t do my loan modification,” Martinez said. “You feel struck as they keep making you go back and forth without doing anything.”
She said that interest on her loan had skyrocketed, making it difficult to make payments.

“Bank of America is coming in and not doing loan modifications. Neither are they lending to our small businesses so why should they be here,” said Gates. “We think banks only understand dollars. So, we are voting with our dollars.”

But Richard Simon, spokesperson for the bank’s home loans division defended the bank: “Providing solutions to distressed homeowners has been, and remains, a central focus for Bank of America, and we have been at the forefront of industry efforts.”

According to Simon, “Bank of America has been quite responsive to PICO and its affiliates.” Bank officials had multiple face-to-face meetings with PICO leaders, he said.

Protestors however, claimed that despite their interactions with Bank of America executives, nothing had changed. They hoped that by divesting their accounts, it would force the bank to clean up its act.

Recently, the Los Angeles city council unanimously passed the Banking Responsibility Ordinance introduced by councilmember Richard Alarcón a year-and-a-half ago. The ordinance directs the treasury to prepare a scorecard and grade banks based on their performance and their service to the community. The evaluations would then be sent to the city council.

“The whole notion behind this initiative is that the governments need to use public dollars wisely,” Alacron explained. “We could have great leverage if more municipalities call for bank responsibility within their jurisdiction.”

Protestors said that if more cities and counties adopted similar measures, big banks would be more likely to change their corporate policies.

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Day 9: Developer Testifies in Mayor Perez’s Larceny Case


Joseph Citino testifies in Mayor Eddie Perez's trial in Hartford Superior Court

HARTFORD — Hartford’s long-time politico Abraham Giles is a businessman.  

Giles runs parking lots throughout the city, one of which is at 1143 Main St., next to what’s known as the “Butt Ugly” building that sits on 1161 Main St. and is at the corner Trumbull Street. This eye sore also abuts the northern part of downtown Hartford and faces Interstate 84. 

So when 45-year old Joseph Citino, a Hartford native and three-time convicted felon turned developer, purchased that building, he had to call Giles. In that phone call with Citino, the octogenarian brought to bear his political and business acumen shaped by a lifetime of experiences in Hartford, according to Citino’s testimony on the ninth day of the state’s corruption case against Mayor Eddie Perez.

The state is accusing Perez of conspiracy to commit larceny by extortion. 

Citino testified that he wanted the property so he could develop the building into what he imagined should be at that corner: a six-story condo high rise with retail below. But he could not move forward until he took care of Giles, a known supporter of Perez, he said. 

As the co-owner of Providian Builders, Citino said taking care of Giles was one of the four criteria the city set out for his company before he could develop the building into what he imagined should be at that corner: a six-story condo high rise with retail below.   

Perez, he said, told him to “take care of Abe Giles, or there is no next step.”  The other criteria were for Citino to secure the property, to provide a second rendering of his proposed development and to add an awning to the proposed structure. He also had to buy the city-owned land that houses Giles’s parking lot. 

When Citino called Giles, the North End powerbroker began with prices and terms that perplexed Citino. The end result, Citino said, was that Giles would “have his hands in” his pocket for perpetuity–meaning forever.    Citino then told Giles to “cut the bull—-.” “What would it take to vacate the property?” he then asked Giles.

 Giles initially wanted $250,000 because he had children and had to think about their future, Citino said. He then offered $25,000 to Giles to terminate his lease. Giles countered with $100, 000 offer to vacate. Citino agreed to pay Giles $100, 000.

 Citino said he agreed because among other things, Giles said he could “make or break the deal” because he knows Perez. So he felt that he had to take care of Giles to move forward in the plans to develop the property.

Then Citino found out Giles didn’t have a lease on the property and that it was the city’s responsibility to get Giles off the property. The city wanted nothing to do with that mess, Citino said. And he was left with a contract that offered to pay off Giles $100,000. When Citino took into account that large sum, plus $1.1 million he paid for the building and the cost to get rid of the asbestos and demolished the building, he balked. 

In addition, he believed the plan had the green light until he received a phone call from Jeff Cohen, a Hartford Courant reporter who called to tell Citino that he no longer had an agreement with the city to develop the area.

Citino said Cohen called about 100 times looking for a comment, to which he replied no comment. Cohen also told Citino that he should make a comment because the mayor and his former chief of staff Matt Hennessy denied knowledge of the agreement he made with Giles.

 The defense attorney Hubert Santos objected to Citino’s hearsay statements about what Giles and others said, saying the state has failed to provide sufficient evidence that constitutes conspiracy to commit theft of property and that most of the state’s case is based on hearsay testimony, which they can’t cross examine because Giles is not being called as a witness in this case. 

The state disagreed with Santos’ theory, and the Court allowed the state to continue its questioning. Citino also testified that after his experience with Giles and the city, he learned Perez had sent a letter to  Kevin Kane, the chief state attorney to ask that Citino be investigated for possible wrongdoing, he said. Perez claimed Citino tried to defraud taxpayers.

Citino  also received a letter from the state’s attorney’s office saying he would not be prosecuted during the current investigation as long as he “tells the truth.” About 20 years ago, Citino was convicted of distribution of drugs, counterfeiting and sales of fire arms.  He owns dozens of buildings across the city and at least one restaurant. His attorney was William Gerace, the same attorney hired by Carlos Costa of USA Contractors Inc. Costa said he worked on the mayor’s kitchen and bathroom to get more access.

With his conditional immunity spelled out by Prosecutor Michael Gailor, Citino turned to Perez and said Perez made “false allegations” against him, which was a mistake because in the end, Perez now faces charges of corruption.

“I wasn’t charged in this crime, he was,” Citino said.  

He is expected to continue is testimony on Wednesday. 

 

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Man Captured in East Hartford Triple Murders


EAST HARTFORD  —  Police arrested a suspect on Wednesday  in a May 6 triple homicide at WoodCliff Estates. 
Horvil “Trix” Lebrick, 31, of Booklyn, New York was arraigned Wednesday on fugitive charges in New York.  He awaits extradition to Connecticut and is expected to be charged with felony murder.

According to report,New York police detectives and police officers surrounded Lebrick’s  home in Brooklyn at   7:30 a.m. Wednesday. And he surrendered without incident.

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Day 8: Perez Trial Shifts To Phase Two, Kennedy Testifies


HARTFORD — City Councilman Kenneth Kennedy was the first witness to testify in phase two of the Chief State Attorney’s Office’s case against Mayor Eddie Perez for alleged bribery and larceny.

Sitting as the prosecutors’ expert witness on North End political dealings, Kennedy said Perez needed a “magic number” to garner the Democratic Town Committee’s endorsement for mayor in the 2007 election, and the only district that was large and malleable enough to give him that number was the 5th Assembly District, which was under the control of Abe Giles. The crucial number was 50 percent plus one of about 70 committee members. Giles, who has been in Hartford politics since the 1940s, was a known political opponent of Perez since 2001. But sometime in 2006, the octogenarian went on a radio show and backed Perez, said Kennedy who has plans to run for mayor. According to prosecutors, Perez rewarded Giles with lucrative city contracts in exchange for his support in the fifth district.

That’s the essence of the state’s larceny case that began on day eight of the state’s corruption case against Perez.

But before prosecutors delved into the second phase of their case, they wrapped up the first phase on bribe receiving and fabricating evidence with testimony from a Hartford Federal Credit Union employee who said Perez applied for a $25,000 home equity loan for home repairs and debt consolidation on June 27, 2007, which prosecutors said Perez borrowed to pay a city after he learned about the state’s investigation.

Also in the bribery portion of the case last week, Inspector Michael Sullivan testified Perez was visibly nervous when questioned about work done at his house by a city contractor. Prosecutors also claimed that Perez had work on his house done by Carlos Costa of USA Contractors Inc. and in return gave Costa more access to his office and helped Costa stay on the job  despite complaints about shoddy work.

But testimony from various city workers revealed it would have “cost the city a fortune” if Perez and his aide had not step in to mediate the contentious relationship with Costa and the city department of public works.  In addition, Perez’s administrative assistant   Barbara Crockett revealed Costa emailed and called incessantly but failed to gain extra access to the mayor.

Also on the stand last week was City Treasurer Kathleen Palm Devine. Devine  said she received an email from the mayor’s office about expedited checks for Costa. Prosecutors contend that Costa’s checks were a pay off by Perez for work done to his kitchen and bathroom on Bloomfield Avenue by Costa. But after Perez’s attorneys questioned Devine, she said every disbursed check is thoroughly vetted by her office.  She then acknowledged that the checks Costa received were valid checks and were expedited because of the city’s delay in paying Costa for work done during the previous year.

Perez’s corruption case continues on Thursday at 10 a.m.

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Puerto Rican Nationalist Faces Sentencing for 1983 Robbery


HARTFORD — A Puerto Rican nationalist is scheduled for sentencing today in a 1983 armored truck roberry of about $7 million.

Avelino Gonzalez-Claudio faces at least seven years when he goes before a U.S. District Court Judge in Hartford on Wednesday, according to Associated Press reports.

Claudio was a fugitive for more than 22 years before his arrest in  2008 while in Puerto Rico. Authorities say the 67-year-old Gonzalez-Claudio conspired with others to rob a Wells Fargo truck in West Hartford to help fund Los Macheteros, a clandestine organization that seeks Puerto Rican independence.

Gonzalez-Claudio’s attorneys and prosecutors reached a plea deal giving him seven years in prison, but it needs a judge’s approval.

 
 

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UConn Report: Gloomy Outlook For Connecticut


HARTFORD  — A University of Connecticut study offers a gloomy outlook for the state’s economy, citing persistently high unemployment, personal income failing to rise and weak real estate markets.

The Connecticut Center of Economic Analysis recommended Wednesday that more than $1 billion in unused research and development tax credits be reclaimed by the state to build and equip manufacturing, pharmaceutical, bioscience and research space that would create nearly 40,000 high-wage jobs.

“There is currently little prospect for a robust recovery in Connecticut’s economy,” the report said. “Even where there are glimmers of prospective growth, caution is warranted.”

The report, titled “Drifting Down: What Will Restore Connecticut’s Economic Vitality?” said state legislation enacted this year should improve Connecticut’s performance in a few years, but no policy initiatives will likely drive a strong recovery in the short term.

“There is little to argue that the state’s revenue picture will improve sufficiently to reduce massive, multibillion-dollar budget deficits over the next two to four years,” said the report, written by Peter Gunther, a senior research fellow at the Connecticut Center of Economic Analysis.

Fred Carstensen, director of the center, said the report’s conclusions are grim but realistic.

“No one that I know of thinks we’re going to have a robust recovery,” he said in an interview. “We’re going to go along with a trickle of new jobs. That’s about it.”

Connecticut added jobs in April and the rate of unemployment dipped to 9 percent from 9.2 percent in March, the state Labor Department said last week. Job gains were reported for the fourth consecutive month, but the University of Connecticut study said employment will likely contract in the coming months.

Dan Kennedy, a senior economist at the Department of Labor, said the state agency will release its own data soon. He would not comment on the university’s forecast.

The study also said housing permits are a fraction of what they were at their peak, jeopardizing a recovery in construction.

Applying unused tax credits to economic development would be a “real game-changer,” it said.

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