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Hard Rock Park… What’s Left, Six Years Later

It had so much promise. A brand new theme park built in an area that already played host to about 15 million visitors annually, and that did not have a major theme park for hundreds of miles. It had a community in its corner and legions of potential customers bringing billions of dollars every year to spend. It had an untested-but-unique theme, a well-known brand, and a creative team with miles of talent, many of whom would later work on the likes of Universal’s Harry Potter and many Disney projects.

After only one year of operation, so much promise turned into so much disappointment. A bad economy hampered tourist spending and killed the stock market. Poor pricing and marketing campaigns kept many customers either away or unaware of the park’s existence. Bad business deals led to lack of operating funds. With no money at the end of the season, no major company backing the park, and a frozen credit market, there was nothing left to weather the financial storm, and it was over. Subsequent attempts to rebrand and reopen the park were mired in bankruptcy court and lawsuits over previously abandoned intellectual property. In 2010 the brand new park was shuttered for good, relegated to SBNO status just two years into its existence.

Abandoned Hard Rock Park
The entrance to the former Hard Rock Park, today

Today, the BM coaster formerly known as Led Zeppelin and then Time Machine now sits in pieces in the cracked and overgrown parking lot, reportedly sold along with the other flagship rides to a park in Asia. The construction cranes currently at work dismantling the rides are a final reminder to those who pass by of its failed promise. It really is a rather depressing sight, considering what was once there and what could have been.

The remains of Led Zeppelin: The Ride
The track for Led Zeppelin: The Ride, disassembled and awaiting shipment to points east

The reasons for Hard Rock’s demise have more to do with economics and business and very little to do with creativity and design. The park was financed and built for less than $400 million, quite a feat considering the cost for infrastructure and the content they produced. I was fortunate enough to pay Hard Rock a visit on its very last day of operation in 2008. What I remember most about it was the quality and the little bit of edge that it had to it. It truly was a theme park, reminiscent of a not yet fully grown IOA. Some of the attractions were still fillers, and it needed a few years to mature and grow, but it had the bones of something great. Nights in White Satin remains to this day one of my favorite dark rides ever, and the park was full of neat visuals and ambience. The shows were entertaining, the staff was great, and the food was of good quality. The biggest thing missing from the day was the people. Makes me wonder what would have been if the creative team had a couple of years and money to play with.

We can blame two things for that…the recession and poor business. Management took a gamble and made a grave error in judgment. Highly confident in their product to say the least, they overpromised to investors and under-delivered to their bottom line, spending more than $100 million of the $385 million budget on finance costs and investor payoff and leaving the park highly leveraged with little cash to operate with. They sorely misjudged their marketplace with the ticket pricing. Anyone over 3 years old was charged the full price of $50, and that was about it. No starlight options, pricing for height, senior prices, discounts for locals…etc. While much of this pricing in the industry is somewhat of an illusion anyway, the lack of options and perceived value likely would have put off many of the Midwestern middle class families of 5 with little kids…in other words the largest demographic that visits the area. Perhaps the biggest misstep of all was the largely ineffective marketing campaign. The seven-city tour of the Magical Mystery Bus didn’t work because they didn’t really advertise the stop and concert that came with it. The free interactive preview center built at the park site hosted an underwhelming amount of people when compared to the tourist population, mostly because not many knew it existed. The center was never really marketed to the visitors in town, and when the park opened, management amazingly made almost no attempt to partner with any of the more than 450 hotels in the area in the park’s marketing, something that every other major attraction in the area does. By the time they had gotten wise to some of their errors, the season was almost over and the money was gone. The bad economy encouraged most of their investors to simply take a loss and leave the project.

Abandoned theme park
Most Hard Rock Park ride skeletons, strewn around the parking lot

In the wake of its initial bankruptcy, Hard Rock left scores of local businesses holding the bag, a bad taste that still remains to this day in the mouths of some. Out of the disaster of the first season came a group of former park employees to buy what was left. Having to abandon the Hard Rock name and the rights to specific band names and songs, the park reopened the following year as Freestyle Music Park. Soon after though, the park was mired in lawsuits from previous executives, seeking ownership of intellectual property and hobbling any attempts at a meaningful comeback. The park subsequently entered foreclosure, and then made one final appearance in pop culture on an episode of NBC’s “Revolution� as an abandoned theme park.

Led Zeppelin: The Ride
Led Zeppelin: The Ride, in operation in 2008

As the rides finally leave the site and the weeds continue to grow, people in the area can’t help but wonder what’s next. Inquiries about park hours continue to come in. Many people lament the passing of Hard Rock when they see the finality of the dismantled rides in the lot. The park industry in one of the largest tourist markets in the country still consists of a small seaside amusement park, a couple of small water parks, and collections of flat rides in a few places…not indicative at all of its potential. As of yet, there are no plans to redevelop or rehab the area, although people seem to be calling for something to happen. It seems that one of the most unfortunate industry stories in recent memory has finally come to a close.

More, from the Editor: Theme Park Insider readers saw trouble with Hard Rock Park two years before its opening. Here are the links where we picked apart Hard Rock Park’s overly optimistic attendance projections, the park management shot back at us, and then we analyzed the park’s failure, after the fact.

Read more about what the park was like with these in-person reports, one from the soft opening and another from the official grand opening for the media:

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New Hope for Homeowners in California HOAs

(image by Kenneth Eade)

Homeowner’s Associations, created by deed provisions to serve homeowners in condominium developments, are often at odds with individual owners of units. Sometimes these conflicts escalate to the point where the HOA actually forecloses on a homeowner’s interest in the unit, resulting in a total loss to the homeowner. The Davis-Stirling Common Interest Development Act, codified in Civil Code Sections 1350-1376, gives an HOA the authority to levy assessments, which become an involuntary lien against the homeowner’s interest when the HOA records a “Notice of Delinquent Assessment” (Civil Code 1367). Section 1367(e) gives the HOA the right to enforce that lien in any manner permitted by law, including foreclosure. Thus, if the homeowner does not pay a delinquent assessment, his or her interest may be sold at either a judicial or non-judicial foreclosure sale, resulting in the possibility of the HOA becoming the owner of the unit and evicting the homeowner from their own home.

I recently came in to represent an elderly couple in Marina del Rey in such a case after a default judgment for judicial foreclosure. Thankfully, the legislature inserted stringent notice provisions in Civil Code 1367.1 by amendment in 2002 and 1367.4 by amendment in 2005, (now repealed and replaced by Civil Code sections 5705, et. seq.) so I looked to them to ascertain whether there was compliance. The provisions require that, thirty days prior to recording a lien on the separate interest of any owner, the HOA must give notice by certified mail of its lien collection procedures, the method and calculation of the assessment amount, a statement that the owner has the right to inspect the HOA’s records, and a specific warning that their interest may be sold without court action if the lien is placed in foreclosure (1367.1(a)(1). They also require an itemized statement of the assessments, late charges, collection and attorney’s fees, a statement that the owner shall not be liable to pay the interest, charges, and costs of collection if it is determined that the assessment was paid on time, the right to request a meeting with the HOA board, the right to dispute the assessment by submitting a written request to the HOA for dispute resolution pursuant to its required “meet and confer” program, and the right to request alternative dispute resolution with a neutral third party (1367.1(a)(2-6). The decision to record the lien must be made by the HOA board by a majority vote (1367.1(c)(1)(B), and the notice of delinquent assessment must be recorded and a copy of the recorded notice served on the homeowner by certified mail. Section 1367.4 requires the HOA, prior to the use of foreclosure, to collect an assessment over $1800, to offer the “meet and confer,” to make the decision to foreclose by a majority vote of the full HOA board, to provide notice of that decision to the owner by personal service, “in accordance with the manner of service of a summons (CCP sections 415.10, et. seq.), and to allow the homeowner a redemption period in cases of non-judicial foreclosure (Civil Code section 1367.4).

Prior to the case of Diamond v. Superior Court, _____ Cal. App. 4th _____ (2013), decided by the Sixth District Court of Appeal on June 18, 2013, courts were refusing to overturn foreclosures if the HOA could demonstrate “substantial compliance” with the statute. The Diamond case held that the notice requirements of sections 1367.1 and 1367.4 must be strictly construed, “pursuant to the plain language of the statutes and their legislative history” and set aside the foreclosure sale in that case for the HOA’s failure to send the homeowner a copy of the recorded notice of delinquent assessment and failing to give the required pre-lien notice of a right to demand alternative dispute resolution.

In my case, the homeowner came to me on the verge of a judicial foreclosure in an attempt to stop the sale and force the HOA back to the bargaining table. The HOA in that case had not yet personally served the homeowner with a copy of the board’s decision to foreclose on their home, and claimed that the statute did not specify when it should be served. Presumably, they could serve it any time before the foreclosure sale. However, the reason for personal service in accordance with CCP section 415.10 is to give notice of a legal process in order to comply with the principles of due process. As stated by the Diamond court, “We find an expression of the Legislature’s intent regarding the public purpose of the sections 1367.1 and 1367.4 and the statutory notice requirements in the legislative history. Section 1367.1 was added to the Civil Code in 2002 (Stats. 2002, ch. 1111, – 8) and amended in 2005, when section 1367.4 was added (Stats. 2005, ch. 452, – 5). In 2005, the Senate Judiciary Committee’s bill analysis stated: “This bill protects owners’ equity in their homes when they fail to pay relatively small assessments to their common interest development associations.” (Sen. Com. on Judiciary, Analysis of Sen. Bill No. 137 (2005-2006 Reg. Sess.) as amended Sept. 1, 2005, p. 1.)”

The fourteenth amendment to the United States Constitution provides that “no state shall deprive any person of life, liberty or property without due process of law.” The legislative history of the amendment creating section 1367.4, plainly requires the HOA board to provide notice of its decision to foreclose as a condition of foreclosure, which is a taking of property authorized by the state. Notice is a concept of due process, and to require that notice to be given by personal service, as opposed to the other methods of service specified in the Code of Civil Procedure, the legislature plainly prescribed the highest form of notice. The purpose of such service statutes is to assure that due process is satisfied. See American Express Centurion Bank v. Zara, 199 Cal. App 4th 383 (2011). Clearly, since the statute specifies personal service of the board’s decision as a precondition of foreclosure, that service must occur before the commencement of foreclosure proceedings, to allow the homeowner notice and the opportunity to defend against them.

Kenneth Eade is an international attorney and the best-selling author of “Bless the Bees: The Pending Extinction of our Pollinators and What You Can Do to Stop It,” “An Involuntary Spy,” “Predatory Kill,” and “A Patriot’s Act.”

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Developer indicted in wetlands pollution

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Mortgages getting cheaper, easier to get for some homebuyers

Image: CNN

Image: CNN

NEW YORK (CNNMoney) — For wealthy homebuyers, mortgages are getting cheaper and easier to come by.

Not only are big-pocketed borrowers paying lower average rates on the high dollar value loans known as jumbo mortgages, but lenders are now requiring even smaller down payments — and, in some cases, they are waiving the mortgage insurance, too.

For months, lenders of jumbo mortgages have been charging interest rates that are lower than what average borrowers pay.

The Mortgage Bankers Association reports that the average rate on jumbo loans — mortgages of $417,000 or more (or $625,500-plus in high priced markets) — was 4.24% last week, compared with 4.36% for conventional 30-year, fixed-rate mortgages.

And now some lenders have reduced the required down payments on these loans to as little as 10%, down from 20%, according to Tom Wind, executive vice president of home lending for EverBank.

In some cases, these lenders may not even require jumbo loan borrowers to purchase private mortgage insurance — a prerequisite for almost anyone who takes out a low down payment loan.

Banks have even lowered the credit standards they use to underwrite these jumbo loans, according to John Walsh, owner of lender Total Mortgage Services.

During the past several years, most jumbo borrowers needed at least a 700 credit score to get a loan. But now lenders are giving loans to borrowers with credit scores of as low as 650.

“That was unheard of 12 months ago,” said Walsh.

So why are banks cutting these borrowers such a big break?

According to Malcolm Hollensteiner, head of retail lending for TD Bank, banks want jumbo loan customers not so much for the profits the loans generate, but to win new clients for other bank services such as brokerage services or retirement planning.

Keeping jumbo loans on their books is a very “sticky” way to do that, he said.

For lenders, giving a loan to someone with a lower credit score, or with less money down, is also a gamble worth taking. Big loan borrowers have better track records when it comes to repaying their loans and they default at a much lower rate, said Wind.

Plus, many of the highest priced housing markets, like San Francisco, Los Angeles, New York and Washington D.C., are going strong. And when home prices are stable or rising in an area, it lowers the risk that a borrower will default.

Even if borrowers stop paying, rising home values mean most or all of the loan balances can be recouped in foreclosure.

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Difference Maker

The first child whose life I tried to make a difference in was Maricela. She was twelve years old and in the sixth grade at a middle school in the San Gabriel Valley, about a half hour’s drive from my house, near downtown Los Angeles. We’d been matched by the Big Brothers Big Sisters organization, which put us in a “school-based program.” This meant that Maricela would be excused from class twice a month in order to meet with me in an empty classroom. On our first visit, I brought art supplies—glue and glitter and stencils you could use to draw different types of horses. I hadn’t been told much about Maricela, only that she had a lot of younger siblings and often got lost in the shuffle at home. She spent most of our first meeting skulking around in the doorway, calling out to friends who were playing kickball in the courtyard. I sat at a desk tracing glittery horses, telling myself she’d come to me when she was ready.

Several months later, it was determined that Maricela saw me largely as a way to get out of class and therefore needed “different kinds of supports.” I was transferred to a Big Brothers Big Sisters community-based program to work with fifteen-year-old Kaylee. She had requested a Big Sister, writing on her application that she needed “guidance in life.” I found out that Kaylee had mentors from several volunteer organizations. Each had an area of expertise: help with college applications and financial aid, help finding a summer job, help with “girl empowerment.” Nearly every time I asked her if she’d been to a particular place—to the science center or the art museum or the Staples Center to see an L.A. Sparks women’s basketball game—she told me that another mentor had taken her. So we often wound up going to the mall.

I was thirty-five years old when I worked with Maricela and thirty-six when I met Kaylee. I came to see these years as the beginning of the second act of my adult life. If the first act—college through age thirty-four or so—had been mostly taken up by delirious career ambition and almost compulsive moving among houses and apartments and regions of the country, the second was mostly about appreciating the value of staying put. I’d bought a house in a city that was feeling more and more like home. And though I could well imagine being talked out of my single life and getting married if the right person and circumstances came along—in fact, I met my eventual husband around the time I was matched with Kaylee—one thing that seemed increasingly unlikely to budge was my lack of desire to have children. After more than a decade of being told that I’d wake up one morning at age thirty or thirty-three—or, God forbid, forty—to the ear-splitting peals of my biological clock, I would still look at a woman pushing a stroller and feel no envy at all, only relief that I wasn’t her.

I was willing to concede that I was possibly in denial. All the things people say to people like me were things I’d said to myself countless times. If I found the right partner, maybe I’d want a child because I’d want it with him. If I went to therapy to deal with whatever neuroses could be blamed on my own upbringing, maybe I’d trust myself not to repeat my childhood’s more negative aspects. If I understood that you don’t necessarily have to like other children in order to be devoted to your own (as it happens, this was my parents’ stock phrase: “We don’t like other children, we just like you”), I would stop taking my aversion to kids kicking airplane seats as a sign that I should never have any myself. After all, only a very small percentage of women genuinely feel that motherhood isn’t for them. Was I really that exceptional? And, if I was, why did I have names picked out for the children I didn’t want?

For all this, I had reasons. They ran the gamut from “Don’t want to be pregnant” to “Don’t want to make someone deal with me when I’m dying.” (And, for the record, I’ve never met a woman of any age and any level of inclination to have children who doesn’t have names picked out.) Chief among them was my belief that I’d be a bad mother. Not in the Joan Crawford mode but in the mode of parents you sometimes see who obviously love their kids but clearly do not love their own lives. For every way I could imagine being a good mother, I could imagine ten ways that I’d botch the job irredeemably.

More than that, I simply felt no calling to be a parent. As a role, as my role, it felt inauthentic. It felt like not what I was supposed to be doing with my life. My contribution to society was not about contributing more people to it but, rather, about doing something for the ones who were already here. Ones like Maricela and Kaylee. I liked the idea of taking the extra time I had because I wasn’t busy raising my own child and using it to help them. It also helped that if anyone, upon learning my feelings about having children, lobbed the predictable “selfish” grenade, I could casually let them know that I was doing my part to shape and enrich the next generation.

When Kaylee graduated from high school and went to college, I didn’t take on a new mentee. The reason I gave the volunteer coördinator was that my life had got busier and more complicated. This was true. I had got married at thirty-nine, my mother had died shortly thereafter following a brutal illness, and I’d finally managed, after years of troubling inertia, to publish a new book. More true, though, was that being a Big Sister seemed almost categorically to call for activities that I normally avoided. I’d grown fond of Kaylee. Beneath her taciturn aloofness was an intuitive kindness. When I bawled my eyes out at the end of the movie “Charlotte’s Web,” she kindly passed me tissues from her purse. But I had also come to believe that whatever satisfactions were to be gleaned from youth outreach did not offset the soul-numbing torpor of the Beverly Center parking garage on a Saturday afternoon.

When my husband and I married, we both saw ourselves as ambivalent about having children. Since then, aside from a brief interlude of semi-willingness, my ambivalence had slid into something more like opposition. Meanwhile, my husband’s ambivalence had slid into abstract desire. A marriage counsellor would surely advise a couple in such a situation to discuss the issue seriously and thoroughly, but, wrenching as it was to not be able to make my husband happy in this regard, it seemed to me that there was nothing to discuss. I didn’t want to be a mother; it was as simple as that. And as if to prove that my reasons weren’t shallow or rooted in some deep-seated antipathy toward kids, I decided to return to kid-related do-goodism. This time, though, I would not be going to the mall or buying useless art supplies. I would not stumble through the motions of being a role model. Instead, I would go where I was really needed, where the mall was beside the point. So I became a court-appointed advocate for children in the foster-care system. It was there that I met Matthew.

There is very little that I am permitted to reveal about Matthew, starting with his name, which is not Matthew, as Maricela’s is not Maricela and Kaylee’s is not Kaylee. I cannot provide a physical description, but for the sake of giving you something to hold on to I’m going to say he’s African-American, knobby-kneed, and slightly nearsighted, and had just turned twelve years old when I met him. I cannot tell you about his parents or what they did to land their son in the child-welfare system, but I can say that it’s about as horrific as anything you can imagine. They were permanently out of the picture, as were any number of others who’d tried at times to take their place. Matthew lived in an institutional group home with about seventy-five other kids. He’d lived in quite a few of these places over the years, and, bleak as they were, they’d come to represent familiar interstices between the pre-adoptive placements that he inevitably sabotaged by acting out as soon as he began to get comfortable. Like many foster kids, he felt safer in institutions than in anything resembling a family setting.

“He had a magician!”Buy or license »

Court-appointed advocacy is a national program designed to facilitate communication among social workers, lawyers, judges, and others in particularly complicated foster-care cases. The advocate’s job is to fit together the often disparate pieces of information about a child’s situation and create a coherent narrative for the judge. This narrative takes the form of written reports submitted to the court and is supplemented with actual appearances in court, where the advocate can address the judge directly. Sometimes the information is simple: this child wants to play baseball but needs transportation to the practices and the games. Sometimes it’s gothic: this child is being locked in her bedroom by her foster mother because she’s become violent and some glitch in the insurance plan has temporarily stopped coverage of her antipsychotic medication. Though advocates are encouraged to develop a relationship with the children they work with, they are not mentors as much as investigators.

I’d been told that Matthew’s problems were neither as simple as needing a ride to baseball practice nor as dire as being locked in his bedroom. During our first visit, he told me that what he wanted most was for me to take him to McDonald’s. (The Happy Meal, it turns out, is the meal of choice for the unhappiest kids in the world.) But I wasn’t allowed to take him off the grounds of the group home, so we sat in the dining hall and hobbled through a conversation about what my role as his advocate amounted to. (He already knew; he’d had one before.) In my training sessions, I’d learned that it was a good idea to bring a game or a toy. After much deliberation, I had settled on a pack of cards that asked hundreds of “Would you rather” questions: “Would you rather be invisible or able to read minds?”; “Would you rather be able to stop time or fly?” Matthew’s enthusiasm for this activity was tepid at best, and when I got to questions like “Would you rather go to an amusement park or a family reunion?” and “Would you rather be scolded by your teacher or by your parents?” I shivered at my stupidity for not having vetted them ahead of time.

“We don’t have to play with these,” I said.

“Uh-huh,” Matthew said. This turned out to be his standard response to just about everything. It was delivered in the same tone regardless of context, a tone of impatience mixed with indifference—the tone people use when they’re waiting for the other person to stop talking.

The next time I saw him, I was allowed to take him out. I suggested that we go to the zoo or to the automotive museum, but he said he wanted to go shopping at Target. For his recent birthday he’d received gift cards from his social worker and also from his behavioral specialist at the group home. He seemed upbeat, counting and recounting the cash in his pocket (he received a small weekly allowance from the group home) and adding it to the sum total of his gift cards, which included a card worth twenty-five dollars that I’d picked up at the advocacy office. He wanted something digital, preferably an MP3 player. The only thing in his price range was a Kindle. I tried to explain the concept of saving up a little while longer, but he insisted that he wanted the Kindle, even after I reminded him that he’d said he didn’t like to read and that he would still have to pay for things to put on the Kindle. He took it to the checkout counter, where he was twenty-five dollars short anyway. The cashier explained that there were taxes. Also, it appeared that one of his gift cards had been partly spent. Matthew cast his eyes downward. He wouldn’t look at me or at anyone, and I couldn’t tell if he was going to cry or fly into a rage. There was a line of people behind us, so I lent him twenty-five dollars on the condition that he pay me back in installments.

“Do you know what installments are?” I asked.


“It’s when you give or pay something back in small increments.”

I knew he didn’t know what “increments” meant, but I couldn’t think of another word.

“So now you haven’t just gone shopping—you’ve learned something, too!” I said.

Once we were back in the car, I found a piece of paper, tore it in half, and wrote out two copies of an I.O.U., which we both signed. Matthew seemed pleased by this and ran his index finger along the perimeter of the Kindle box as though he’d finally got his hands on a long-coveted item. I gave him command of the radio, and as he flipped from one Auto-Tuned remix to the next I found myself basking in the ecstatic glow of altruism. When I dropped him off at the group home, the promissory note tucked in his Target shopping bag along with the Kindle and the greasy cardboard plate that held the giant pretzel I’d also bought him, I felt useful. I felt proud.

It had been a long time between accomplishments. At least, it had become hard to identify them, as most of my goals for any given day or week took the form of tasks, mundane and otherwise, to be dreaded and then either crossed off a list or postponed indefinitely (meet article deadline, get shirts from dry cleaner, start writing new book). Little seemed to warrant any special pride. And though I wanted to believe that I was just bored, the truth was that the decision not to have children was like a slow drip of guilt into my veins.

My husband was patient and funny and smart. In other words, outstanding dad material. Wasting such material seemed like an unpardonable crime. Besides, I’ve always believed that it is not possible to fall in love with someone without picturing what it might be like to combine your genetic goods. It’s almost an aspect of courtship, this vision of what your nose might look like smashed up against your loved one’s eyes, this imaginary Cubist rendering of the things you hate most about yourself offset by the things you adore most in the other person. And, a little over a year after we married, this curiosity, combined with the dumb luck of finding and buying an elegant, underpriced, much-too-large-for-us house in a foreclosure sale, had proved sufficient cause for switching to the leave-it-to-fate method of birth control. Soon enough, I’d found myself pregnant.

It was as if the house itself had impregnated me, as if it had said, “I have three bedrooms and there are only two of you; what’s wrong with this picture?” For eight weeks, I hung in a nervous limbo, thinking my life was about to become either unfathomably enriched or permanently ruined. Then I had a miscarriage. I was forty-one, so it was not exactly unexpected. And though there had been nothing enriching about my brief pregnancy, which continued to harass my hormones well after vacating the premises, I was left with something that in a certain way felt worse than permanent ruin. I was left with permanent doubt.

My husband was happy about the pregnancy and sad about the miscarriage. I was less sad about the miscarriage, though I undertook to convince myself otherwise by trying to get pregnant again. After three months of dizzying cognitive dissonance, I walked into the guest room that my husband used as an office and allowed myself to say, for once and for all, that I didn’t want a baby. I’d thought I could talk myself into it, but those talks had failed.

As I was saying all this, I was lying on the cheap platform bed we’d bought in anticipation of a steady flow of out-of-town company. The curtains were lifting gently in the breeze. Outside, there was bougainvillea, along with bees and hummingbirds and mourning doves. There was a grassy lawn where the dog rolled around scratching its back, and a big table on the deck where friends sat on weekends eating grilled salmon and drinking wine and complaining about things they knew were a privilege to complain about (the cost of real estate, the noise of leaf blowers, the overratedness of the work of more successful peers). And as I lay on that bed it occurred to me, terrifyingly, that all of it might not be enough. Maybe such pleasures, while pleasurable enough, were merely trimmings on a nonexistent tree. Maybe nothing—not a baby or the lack of a baby, not a beautiful house, not rewarding work—was ever going to make us anything other than the chronically dissatisfied, perpetual second-guessers we already were.

“I’m sorry,” I said. I meant this a million times over. To this day, there is nothing I’ve ever been sorrier about than my inability to make my husband a father.

“It’s O.K.,” he said.

Except it wasn’t, really. From that moment on, a third party was introduced into our marriage. It was not a corporal party but an amorphous one, a ghoulish presence that functioned as both cause and effect of the absence of a child. It had even, in the back of my mind, come to have a name. It was the Central Sadness. It collected around our marriage like soft, stinky moss. It rooted our arguments and dampened our good times. It taunted us from the sidelines of our social life (the barbecues with toddlers underfoot; a friend’s child interrupting conversations mid-sentence; the clubby comparing of notes about Ritalin and dance lessons and college tuition, which prompted us to feign interest lest we come across like overgrown children ourselves). It haunted our sex life. Not since I was a teen-ager (a virginal one at that) had I been so afraid of getting pregnant. I wondered then if our marriage was on life support, if at any moment one of us was going to realize that the humane thing to do would be to call it even and call it a day.

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Compared with this existential torment, foster-care advocacy was almost comforting. Though it was certainly more demanding than Big Brothers Big Sisters, I found it considerably easier—or at least more straightforward than traditional mentoring. For one thing, advocating for a foster kid mostly required dealing with adults. It meant talking to lawyers about potential adoptive placements and meeting with school administrators about Matthew’s disciplinary issues and sitting around the courthouse all day when there was a hearing. Despite the mournful quality of it all, I found not just gratification but actual enjoyment in my efforts to help. I liked spending hours on the phone with my supervisor, a more seasoned advocate, lamenting the labyrinthine bureaucracy of the child-welfare system. I liked sitting around the tiny attorneys’ lounge outside the courtroom, where there was always a plate of stale supermarket pastries next to the coffee maker and clusters of lawyers grumbling about the judge, their clients, the whole hopeless gestalt. I was moved by the family dramas playing out in the courthouse waiting areas. Everywhere, there were children with women—relatives, neighbors, foster mothers—who had taken custody of them. Occasionally, there would be a physical altercation and an officer would have to intervene. The courthouse was its own little planet of grimness and dysfunction. By contrast, I felt bright and capable.

Matthew was smart in the way a lot of longtime foster kids are smart. He was a quick and reasonably accurate judge of character, and as soon as he determined that someone was not a threat he began the process of figuring out what the person could do for him. As much of a downer as this behavior could be for people with romantic ideas of helping troubled kids, it was a perfectly understandable survival mechanism, and I grew to respect it. Much of the work I did for Matthew took place behind the scenes. I made sure that his highly competent, crushingly overworked lawyer knew what his less competent, also crushingly overworked social worker was doing. Working with an education attorney, I got Matthew out of his raucous, overcrowded public school and into a calmer learning environment. But though Matthew was vaguely aware of my efforts, what he seemed to most appreciate was my ability to transport him to places like Target and GameStop. In turn, I grudgingly appreciated his G.P.S.-like knowledge of any such place within a twenty-mile radius of wherever he happened to be at any given time. Not that we didn’t have our teachable moments. One afternoon, after taking Matthew out for giant burritos, I gave my leftovers to a homeless man sleeping in the alley near the restaurant. At first, Matthew was confused about why anyone would do such a thing, but as we continued down the street he said he wanted to give his food away, too, so we turned around and walked back toward the man. Matthew was shy about approaching him, even whispering that he’d changed his mind. But, after he set his food on the sidewalk and skittered away, his look of surprised delight suggested that he’d momentarily stepped into a different life, one in which charity was something he could provide as well as receive.

Still, I knew better than to think I was a major role model. I certainly wasn’t a mother figure. I was more like a random port in the unrelenting storm that was his life. And that was enough. Matthew’s lot was so bad that it could be improved, albeit triflingly, with one mini-pizza at a food court. A kid with higher expectations would have been more than I could handle.

By then, more than a year had passed since my miscarriage and my subsequent declaration that I did not want to have a child. Though my husband had been supportive and accepting, he now began to say out loud again that he wanted to be someone’s father—or, at least, that he might not be O.K. with never being someone’s father. He wanted to use what he knew about the world to help someone find his or her own way through it. He wanted “someone to hang out with” when he got older. He didn’t necessarily need the baby- or toddler-rearing experience. He didn’t need the kid to look like him or be the same race. When I asked if he’d consider mentoring or even being an advocate, he said he wasn’t sure that would be enough.

The seeds of a potential compromise were planted. Maybe we could take in, or even adopt, a foster child. This would be a child old enough that we might actually qualify as young or average-age parents rather than ones of “advanced age.” (If I adopted a ten-year-old at forty-three, it would be the equivalent of having had him at the eminently reasonable age of thirty-three.)

We knew that any child we took in would surely need intensive therapy. He would have demons and heartbreaking baggage. But we would find the needle in the haystack, the kid who dreamed of being an only child in a quiet, book-filled house. I probably wouldn’t be a great mother, but my standards would be so different from those set by the child-welfare system that it wouldn’t matter if I dreaded birthday parties or resorted to store-bought Halloween costumes.

I knew that this was ninety-per-cent bullshit. I knew that it wasn’t O.K. to be a mediocre parent just because you’d adopted the child out of foster care. A few times, my husband and I scrolled through online photo listings of available children in California, but we might as well have been looking at personal ads from a faraway land that no one ever travelled to. There were three-year-olds with cerebral palsy on ventilators, huge sibling groups who spoke no English, kids who “struggle with handling conflict appropriately.” Occasionally, there would be some bright-eyed six- or seven-year-old who you could tell was going to be O.K., who had the great fortune of being able to turn the world on with his smile. So as the Central Sadness throbbed around our marriage, threatening to turn even the most quotidian moments, like the sight of a neighbor tossing a ball around with his kid in the yard, into an occasion for bickering or sulking, the foster-child option placated us with the illusion that all doors were not yet closed.

One day, while my nerves swung on a wider-than-usual pendulum between empathy for Matthew and despondency over my marriage, I decided to call a foster and adoption agency. Actually, I asked my husband to call. I’d been told in my training that advocates are not supposed to get involved with fostering children, even those who have nothing to do with their advocacy. Matthew was not allowed to go to my house or even to meet my husband or any of my friends. I didn’t want to do anything that might be construed as a conflict of interest. When my husband and I arrived at an orientation meeting, I signed in using his last name, something I’d never done before.

“I’ve got to be incognito,” I said, rather dramatically. “Let’s not draw attention to ourselves.”

Each of us was asked to say why we were there. When our turn came, my husband spoke briefly about how we were exploring things in a very preliminary way. Then I spoke about how I was ambivalent about children but that this potentially seemed like a good thing to do. I then proceeded to dominate the rest of the meeting. I acted as if I were back in advocacy training. I raised my hand to ask overly technical questions about things like the Indian Child Welfare Act and the Adoptions and Safe Families Act and throw around their acronyms as if everyone knew what they meant. I asked what the chances of getting adopted were for a twelve-year-old who had flunked out of several placements.

“Maybe this isn’t the right setting for these questions,” my husband whispered.

As the meeting wrapped up, the woman from the agency announced that the next step was to fill out an application and then attend a series of training sessions. After that, she said, prospective parents who passed their home studies could be matched with a child at any time and be on their way to adoption.

Her words were like ice against my spine.

“We’re not at that point!” I said to my husband. “Not remotely close.”

I suggested that he apply to be a mentor for “transitional-age youth,” kids who are aging out of the system but still need help figuring out the basics of life. He filled out a form, with the slightly bewildered resignation of someone agreeing to repair something he hadn’t noticed was broken. The woman from the agency said she’d call him about volunteer opportunities. She never did.

A phrase you frequently hear in the foster-care world is that a child has “experienced a lot of loss.” It comes up in the blurbs accompanying the photo listings. Jamal has experienced a lot of loss but knows the right family is out there. Clarissa is working through her losses and learning to have a more positive attitude. These appear to be references to the original loss of being taken away from the biological family, but often they mean that the child has got close to being adopted but that things haven’t worked out. With Matthew, I suspected that the trauma of being removed from his biological parents had been dwarfed by the cumulative implosions of the placements that followed. He seemed to know that he’d lost his temper too many times or let himself lapse into behavior that frightened people. But when I asked about this, which I did only once or twice, he tended to offer some rote excuse on behalf of the estranged parents, which he’d probably heard from his social workers. He’d say that they lacked the resources to sufficiently meet his needs. He’d say that they didn’t have the skills to handle a kid like him.

About eight months into my work with Matthew, a couple who had been visiting him at the group home and later hosted him at their home on weekends decided not to pursue adoption after all. He’d been hopeful about the placement, and, when I saw him a few days after things fell through, I found him pacing around his cinder-block dormitory like a nervous animal. The prospective mom had given him a used MP3 player, perhaps as a parting gift, but the group-home staff had locked it up for some kind of disciplinary reason. He sat down on a bench outside the dormitory with his Kindle, bending the plastic until pieces began breaking off.

“I know what a huge bummer this is,” I said. “I’m really sorry.”

“I don’t care,” he said.

“Why would I be proud of this? It’s my to-do list.”Buy or license »

Every possible response seemed inadequate, maybe even capable of doing long-term damage.

“I know you probably do care,” I said finally. “But sometimes we care so much about stuff that it’s easier to pretend for a while that we don’t care at all.”

The temperature was in the high nineties; the choke of autumn in Southern California was in full, scorching force. The Kindle was practically melting into soft, curling shards as Matthew tore it apart. I thought about the twenty-three dollars he still owed me for it and wondered which was worse, letting him destroy it or lecturing him about how money and the stuff it buys aren’t disposable. Both tactics seemed fairly useless, but the latter seemed almost like a joke. The kid’s whole life was disposable. Like most foster kids, he kept many of his things in a plastic garbage bag so he could grab and go as needed.

Through angry tears, Matthew declared that he was never going back inside the dormitory and would sleep on the lawn until he could live in a real home. He said that he’d got mad at the prospective mom for not buying him something he wanted but that he hadn’t done anything too bad. He said he’d kicked over some chairs but they weren’t broken or anything. He just wanted another chance but they wouldn’t give him one and it wasn’t fair. After a while, I suggested that he put his feelings in writing, a suggestion that was based less on his own predilections than on what I would do in his situation, but it was all I could think of.

“Let’s go inside and get a piece of paper,” I said. “And you write down what you want and how you feel.”

He agreed, which surprised me. We went inside and into his room, where blue industrial carpet covered the floor and a low-slung twin bed was draped with a thin blue blanket. He got out a spiral-bound notebook and lay on the floor on his stomach, legs spread slightly and elbows propped up as he began to write. He looked more like a normal kid than I’d ever seen him. I left him and headed down to the common room, where about six boys, some of them older and as tall as men, were sprawled in front of a loud television. I asked a staff member where the bathroom was and, without looking up, she directed me down a corridor that ran through an adjacent dormitory.

I passed another common room, filled with younger children. They were seated at a long table set for dinner and they squirmed in their chairs and fiddled with their utensils. One kid shouted above the others and held a basket of breadsticks over his head so that no one could reach them. I slowed down as I passed the entryway. It had been a while since I’d looked through the state photo listings, but, seeing the small, open faces, the feet that barely touched the floor, the institutional food heaped onto institutional plates, I was reminded of the tiny spark of hope those listings had given me and the few occasions when the conversation with my husband about adopting from foster care didn’t necessarily feel like bullshit or a pacifier but, rather, like a viable antidote to the Central Sadness.

I returned to Matthew’s room. He was sitting on the bed, reading over his statement. He handed me the notebook.

I want to live with ——— and ———. Im sorry I got mad. If you give me another chance I promise I’ll never get mad again.

“Will you give that to them?” Matthew asked me.

“If I can,” I said, even though the decision had been made. Later, I realized that telling Matthew to write that note was the cruellest thing I could have done to him.

There are times when I harbor a secret fantasy that one day my husband will get a call from a person claiming to be his son or his daughter. Ideally, this person will be in his or her late teens or early twenties, the product of some brief fling or one-night stand during the Clinton Administration. My husband will be shocked, of course, and probably in denial, and then suddenly his face will blanch and his jaw will grow slack. He will hang up the phone and tell me the news and I will also be shocked. Eventually, though, we’ll both be thrilled. This new relation will breeze in and out of our lives like a sort of extreme niece or nephew. We’ll dispense advice and keep photos on the fridge but, having never got into the dirty details of actual child rearing, take neither credit nor blame for the final results.

I thought I’d undertaken volunteer work with kids because I was, above all, a realist. I thought it showed the depth of my understanding of my own psyche. I thought it was a way of turning my limitations, specifically my reluctance to have children, into new and useful possibilities. I thought the thing I felt most guilty about could be turned into a force for good. But now I know that I was under the sway of my own complicated form of baby craziness. Wary as I’ve always been of our culture’s reflexive idealization—even obsessive sanctification—of the bond between parent and child, it seems that I fell for another kind of myth. I fell for the myth of the village. I fell for the idea that nurture from a loving adoptive community could erase or at least heal the abuses of horrible natural parents.

I’d also tricked myself into believing that trying to help these kids would put the Central Sadness on permanent hiatus, that my husband and I could find peace (not just peace but real fulfillment) in our life together. Instead, we continued to puzzle over the same unanswerable questions. Were we sad because we lacked some essential element of lifetime partnership, such as a child or an agreement about wanting or not wanting one, or because life is just sad sometimes—maybe even a lot of the time? Or perhaps it wasn’t even sadness we were feeling but, simply, the dull ache of aging. Maybe children don’t save their parents from this ache as much as distract from it. And maybe creating a diversion from aging is in fact much of the point of parenting.

Matthew got transferred to a new group home shortly after he turned thirteen. It was practically indistinguishable from the old one. I took him to Target to spend a twenty-five-dollar gift card I’d mailed him for his birthday, but, like the other times, when we reached the front of the checkout line the cashier said there wasn’t enough left on the card. Matthew claimed it was defective. On the conveyor belt sat several bags of chips, a package of cookies, and boxes of macaroni and cheese that he wanted to keep in the kitchen at the group home. I pulled out my credit card and paid. I knew he was lying and I told him so. He said he wasn’t. He said no one ever believed him. He said he had nothing, that no one cared about him or ever did anything for him. He said no one ever gave him a chance or cut him a break. He said everyone in his life was useless.

We got in the car and he ate his chips as we drove in silence. When I pulled up to the entrance of the group home, he gathered his loot without looking at me.

“Happy birthday,” I said.

“Uh-huh,” he said.

Back at home, my husband and I sat down to dinner around our usual time of eight-thirty. We looked through the magazines that had come in the mail. The evening air was still cool, but the daylight was beginning to linger. Soon it would be summer. Friends would start coming over to eat on the deck. After that, it would be fall and then what passes for winter. I would continue to work with Matthew, and he would grow older in his group home while I grew older in my too-big-for-us house. My husband would make peace with the way things had turned out—except in those moments when he didn’t have peace, which, of course, come around for everyone. Our lives would remain our own. Whether that was fundamentally sad or fundamentally exquisite, we’d probably never be certain. But if there’s anything Matthew taught me it’s that having certainty about your life is a great luxury. 

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Judge will not block foreclosure of August Wilson Center

An Allegheny County judge won’t block Dollar Bank from foreclosing on the August Wilson Center for African American Culture early next month if a deal to sell the Downtown property can’t be reached by then.

In an order filed today, Judge Lawrence O’Toole denied a motion by his court-appointed conservator Judith Fitzgerald to stay the sheriff’s sale scheduled Oct. 6 to give her more time to complete the sale of the building to New York developer 980 Liberty Partners.

Judge O’Toole also denied a motion by Ms. Fitzgerald to auction off the property herself in a judicial sale if the proposed purchase by 980 Liberty falls through. The judge did agree to extend the due diligence period for 980 Liberty to complete the sale from Sept, 24 to Oct. 5 — the day before the sheriff’s sale.

African-American group backs foundations’ bid for August Wilson Center. (Video by Nate Guidry; 9/22/2014)

In her motion, Ms. Fitzgerald had argued that the sales agreement she negotiated with 980 Liberty probably won’t be completed until November, making an October sheriff’s sale “premature and unwarranted.” The developer has offered the high bid of $9.5 million for the building with plans to build a 200-room luxury hotel on top of it while reserving part of it for the August Wilson Center.

However, Dollar Bank, which holds the delinquent $7.9 million mortgage on the building, urged Judge O’Toole not to forestall a possible sheriff’s sale, saying it has been exceedingly patient in waiting a year for a resolution. Dollar’s attorney Eric Schaffer added at a hearing Friday, “At some point, it has to stop, and that’s Oct. 6.

The judge’s decision increases pressure on Ms. Fitzgerald to complete the sale to 980 Liberty in short order or risk losing the building to a sheriff’s sale. The sale is opposed by Mayor Bill Peduto, Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald and the city’s Urban Redevelopment Authority. They favor a lower $7.2 million bid offered by three local foundations.

On Monday, Judge O’Toole will hold a key hearing to determine whether deed covenants prevent the center from being used for anything other than an African American arts and cultural center and if city approval is needed to make changes to the building’s exterior.

If he upholds the covenants, it effectively would kill the sale to 980 Liberty and, given his order today, move the building to the brink of sheriff’s sale.

Meanwhile, the Black Political Empowerment Project is backing the bid of the three local foundations to buy the center.

At a press conference this morning, Tim Stevens, B-Pep chairman and CEO, said the bid by the Pittsburgh Foundation, the Heinz Endowments and the Richard King Mellon Foundation “gives the best opportunity” for the center “to fulfill its original mission and to do so utilizing the entire facility as it was meant to be used, when it was designed by African-American architect Allison Williams.”

Noting that some $37 million has been invested in the building and operation of the center in the past by government, foundations, individual contributors and others, “to not support the offer which best meets that goal going forward would be disrespectful to those who made the early contributions.”

The New York developer, 980 Liberty Partners, has a sales agreement with Ms. Fitzgerald to buy it. It has offered the August Wilson Center limited free space in the Downtown building and use of its theater for at least 120 days of the year. 

Mr. Stevens, however, said there were problems with the proposal. For one, August Wilson Center operations would be confined to only 40 percent to 45 percent of the building, he said.

“If realized, the serious reduction of the area to be used for the AWC in the 980 proposal would be a frightening reality to many of us who have been so proud of the beauty of this wonderful building,” he said.

He also said there are still questions about 980 Liberty itself and whether it can raise the $9.5 million and finance the 200-room luxury hotel it wants to build on top of the building.

In addition to offering $7.2 million to buy the building with the help of the city and the county, the foundations have pledged another $4.2 million for the August Wilson Center’s continued operation, he said.

He suggested that 980 Liberty seek another location for its hotel. In meetings the developer had pledged to hire minorities for some of the hotel jobs and provide opportunities for African-American investment.

Dollar Bank, which holds the delinquent mortgage to the property, has not embraced the foundations’ bid because it’s not enough to pay off the $7.9 million it’s owed.

While Mr. Stevens said he had some sympathy for the bank’s plight, he urged it to write off the money it would lose as a contribution to the community.

“We have to go with the the offer that has the best chance of keeping the center open for decades to come,” he said.

Dollar Bank moved to foreclose on the property last year after the August Wilson Center organization defaulted on its mortgage.

Mark Belko: or 412-263-1262.

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Heritage House money man struggled financially

02_sh_ vestal

02_sh_ vestal

The N.C. Real Estate Commission is investigating Vestal Management Company, which is owned by Greensboro businessman G.A. “Sonny” Vestal Jr. 

Heritage House map

Heritage House map

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Trouble at Heritage House condominiums

Some residents and city council members call the six-story complex
squalid and in need of multiple repairs.

Posted: Saturday, September 20, 2014 11:57 pm

Heritage House money man struggled financially

Margaret Moffett/News Record

GREENSBORO — The man responsible for paying the bills at Heritage House doesn’t always pay his own.

G.A. “Sonny” Vestal Jr., whose company ran that troubled condominium’s homeowners association, owes tens of thousands to banks, credit card companies and former business associates, according to legal documents examined by the News Record.

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Saturday, September 20, 2014 11:57 pm.

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Charlie Baker, Martha Coakley target supporters for campaign cash – The Republican

BOSTON (AP) — As they scramble for campaign dollars, Republican Charlie Baker and Democrat Martha Coakley are reaching out to different pockets of donors to help bankroll their pursuit of the Massachusetts governor’s office.

One of the differences is in the amount of out-of-state money each campaign has brought in.

Just under 8 percent of contributions to Baker’s campaign — about $270,000 — came from donors living outside Massachusetts, according to a review of campaign finance records by the Associated Press filed between January, 2013 and mid-September.

For Coakley, the nearly $494,000 she’s pulled in from out-of-state backers accounts for more than 19 percent of her total — nearly one out of every five dollars

The reports filed with the state Office of Campaign and Political Finance also helped fill in some details about the kinds of individuals donating to both campaigns.

Lawyers were among the top donors to both candidates, Coakley collected more than $544,211 from those who listed “attorney” as their profession — more than double the $263,823 donated to Baker by those who described themselves as “attorney” or “lawyer.”

Those who said described themselves as “retired” were the top donors to Baker by occupation ($335,930), far more than the $136,954 donated to Coakley by retired individuals.

Other top donors by occupation to Coakley were those who listed under their job title: “not employed” ($76,908); president ($74,900); homemaker ($73,085); and consultant ($28,556).

For Baker, those who listed their job title as retired or attorney were followed by: homemaker ($169,283); president ($90,195); executive ($84,970); and consultant ($79,210).

The reports also show how much workers from individuals companies gave to each candidate. While companies are barred from making direct contributions to candidates, individual donors list both their occupation and employer. The maximum individual donation is $500 per calendar year.

For Baker, employees at PricewaterhouseCoopers contributed $15,200, followed by Northeast Utilities ($13,100), Fidelity Investments ($12,125), Gutierrez Company ($11,000), and Mintz Levin ($7,500).

For Coakley employees at EMC Corporation topped the list with $20,500 in total donations. Others include Goulston Storrs ($13,100), Nixon Peabody LLP ($12,825) and Hinckley, Allen Snyder LLP ($11,750).

Coakley, the state’s attorney general, also collected $17,770 from those who listed the Commonwealth of Massachusetts as their employer.

Charlie Baker, center, stands behind the bar and pours a Guinness during at a campaign stop Sunday, Sept. 14, 2014, in Boston’s South Boston neighborhood. (AP Photo/Steven Senne) Baker’s campaign finance director Mark Fuller said the GOP candidate’s strong support from inside Massachusetts is a good sign.

“We’re proud that virtually all of our financial support comes from folks that live in the commonwealth,” Mark Fuller said in a statement. “It shows that Charlie’s positive message is really resonating with voters.”

Coakley campaign press secretary Bonnie McGilpin said the attorney general’s role in national issues like the foreclosure crisis and arguing against the federal Defense of Marriage Act helped earn Coakley fans outside Massachusetts.

“In addition the thousands of supporters in Massachusetts excited about electing our first women governor, there are people across the country that support Martha’s vision of expanding fairness, opportunity and equality,” McGilpin said.

A closer look at the campaign finance reports also showed both candidates relying on contributions from donors in many of the same cities and towns. Contributions from Boston led both candidates’ lists. Newton, Needham, Wellesley and Winchester also made it onto the list of Baker and Coakley’s top ten communities.

Baker also pulled in $120,725 from his hometown of Swampscott.

The top zip code for each? Coakley pulled in $338,166 from 02108, a downtown Boston zip code while Baker’s top zip code was in Swampscott.

As of Sept. 15, Baker had $930,109 left in his campaign account, compared to just $131,655 for Coakley, who was coming off a three-way primary contest. Baker was unopposed.

The contributions to Baker and Coakley don’t include money being spent to support or oppose their candidacies by outside groups, including political action committees.

A post-primary poll by the Boston Globe found 39 percent of those polled favored Coakley, compared to 36 percent for Baker, 19 percent undecided, and the remaining 6 percent divided up between three independent candidates for governor — Jeff McCormick, Scott Lively, and Evan Falchuk.

The poll of 407 likely voters was conducted between Sept. 14 and 16 and carries a margin of error of plus or minus 5 percentage points.

The election is Nov. 4.

Article source:

The Color of Money | A reverse mortgage is still a mortgage

You’re 62 or older, and life has derailed your plans.

You didn’t save nearly as much as you wanted to retire — but you had to stop working because of
health issues.

You’ll get Social Security and a monthly pension. But there’s a financial gap because of
unexpected expenses. You need a new roof and other home repairs.

Then you see a late-night television commercial about something called a reverse mortgage.

“You know some people have told me reverse mortgages sound too good to be true,” actor and
former Sen. Fred Thompson says. “I mean, you get cash out of your home. No monthly payments and
still own your home.”

Could this be the answer? It may be. But be careful.

To qualify for a reverse mortgage, you have to be 62 or older and own your home outright or have
a low-enough mortgage that it can be paid off with proceeds from the loan. Your home must be your
principal residence. Borrowers can take the loan as a line of credit, a lump-sum payment, fixed
monthly payments or a combination. Most important, borrowers have to maintain the home and pay
property taxes and homeowner’s insurance.

Like any other financial product, a reverse mortgage is not right for everyone. A 2012 report
from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau found that a large proportion of borrowers —

10 percent — in the federally insured Home Equity Conversion Mortgage program, which represents
about 95 percent of the reverse-mortgage market, were at risk of foreclosure because they hadn’t
paid their property taxes and insurance.

Most recently, a report by researchers at Ohio State University found that changes to the
reverse-mortgage market could help reduce default rates among borrowers who currently don’t have to
undergo the same type of financial assessments as are done for traditional loans.

The Ohio researchers examined a pool of 30,000 seniors counseled for reverse mortgages between
2006 and 2011. As part of its intake of information, the agency pulled people’s credit scores. FHA
requires borrowers to go thorough pre-loan counseling.

As it turned out, borrowers with low scores were more likely to have trouble paying their
property taxes and homeowner’s insurance. Under the FICO credit-scoring model the score range is
300 to 850. The higher the score, the lower the risk.

The Ohio researchers concluded that if lenders held to a FICO credit score threshold of 500,
this could reduce the percentage of people getting a reverse mortgage by

3.2 percent, but lower the predicted default rate by 12.4 percent.

“People have to realize, this is still a mortgage,” said Stephanie Moulton, associate professor
and director of doctoral studies at Ohio State and one of the co-authors of the reverse-mortgage

To get more information about reverse mortgages, go to and search for “Reverse

“For the right person in the right situation, a reverse mortgage can be a sustainable way for
seniors to age in place,” said FHA Commissioner Carol Galante. “But converting your home’s equity
into a source of cash requires careful consideration with the help of an experienced housing

Although the TV commercials make a reverse mortgage sound super simple, there’s a lot to
consider. So please proceed with caution.

Michelle Singletary writes for the Washington Post Writers Group.

Article source:

Make sure you can afford reverse mortgage

You’re 62 or older, and life has derailed your plans.

You didn’t save nearly as much as you wanted to retire – but you had to stop working because of health issues.

You’ll receive a Social Security benefit and a monthly pension. But there’s a financial gap because of unexpected expenses. You need a new roof and other necessary home repairs.

Then you see a late-night television commercial about something called a reverse mortgage.

“You know some people have told me reverse mortgages sound too good to be true,” the actor and former senator Fred Thompson says. “I mean, you get cash out of your home. No monthly payments and still own your home.”

Could this be the answer?

It might be. But be careful.

Most people understand a traditional 30-year or 15-year mortgage. You take out a loan for your home and make monthly payments. But with a reverse mortgage, there is no monthly payment. The lender doesn’t get paid until you move, sell or die. If the home is sold, any equity that remains after the loan is repaid is distributed to you or your estate.

To qualify for a reverse mortgage, you have to be 62 or older and own your home outright or have a low-enough mortgage that it can be paid off with proceeds from the loan. Your home must be your principal residence. Borrowers can take the loan as a line of credit, a lump-sum payment, fixed monthly payments or a combination. Most importantly, borrowers have to maintain the home and pay property taxes and homeowner’s insurance.

Like any other financial product, a reverse mortgage is not right for everyone. A 2012 report from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau found that a large proportion of borrowers – nearly 10 percent – in the federally insured Home Equity Conversion Mortgage program, which represents about 95 percent of the reverse mortgage market, were at risk of foreclosure because they hadn’t paid their property taxes and insurance.

There have been changes to reverse mortgages recently. People are limited in how much they can withdraw during the first year. As of Aug. 4, non-borrowing spouses can’t be kicked out of the house when their spouses die as long as they continue to meet certain qualifications. And coming soon are new rules from the Federal Housing Administration to make sure people can afford the expenses they must pay under a reverse mortgage.

Many folks are alarmed that some seniors are using the money from a reverse mortgage not to supplement other income or to handle unexpected medical expenses or make needed home improvements but as a pot of money that they are too quickly depleting.

“To a lot of people, a reverse mortgage is a loan of last resort for seniors without any other options,” said Peter Bell, president and chief executive of National Reverse Mortgage Lenders Association. “But a reverse mortgage can be a useful part of a retirement plan. However, you shouldn’t use it as a bailout.”

Most recently, a report by researchers at Ohio State University found that changes to the reverse mortgage market could help reduce default rates among borrowers who currently don’t have to undergo the same type of financial assessments as is done for traditional loans.

The Ohio researchers examined a pool of 30,000 seniors counseled for reverse mortgages between 2006 and 2011. As part of its intake of information, the agency pulled people’s credit scores. FHA requires borrowers to go thorough pre-loan counseling.

As it turned out, borrowers with low scores were more likely to have trouble paying their property taxes and homeowner’s insurance. Under the FICO credit-scoring model, the score range is 300 to 850. The higher the score, the lower the risk.

The Ohio researchers conclude that if lenders held to a FICO credit score threshold of 500, this could reduce the percentage of people getting a reverse mortgage by 3.2 percent, but lower the predicted default rate by 12.4 percent.

“People have to realize, this is still a mortgage,” said Stephanie Moulton, associate professor and director of doctoral studies at Ohio State and one of the co-authors of the reverse mortgage report.

To get more information about reverse mortgages, go to and search for “Reverse Mortgage.”

“For the right person in the right situation, a reverse mortgage can be a sustainable way for seniors to age in place,” said FHA Commissioner Carol Galante. “But converting your home’s equity into a source of cash requires careful consideration with the help of an experienced housing counselor.”

Although the TV commercials make a reverse mortgage sound super simple, there’s a lot to consider. So please proceed with caution.

Readers can email Michelle Singletary at

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