Fair Housing … it’s the law, not a prescription for home buying hide and seek.

Fair Housing Act
Title VIII of the Civil Rights Act of 1968 (Fair Housing Act), as amended, prohibits discrimination in the sale, rental, and financing of dwellings, and in other housing-related transactions, based on race, color, national origin, religion, sex, familial status (including children under the age of 18 living with parents or legal custodians, pregnant women, and people securing custody of children under the age of 18), and disability.

HUD has played a lead role in administering the Fair Housing Act since its adoption in 1968. The 1988 amendments, however, have greatly increased the Department’s enforcement role. First, the newly protected classes have proven significant sources of new complaints. Second, HUD’s expanded enforcement role took the Department beyond investigation and conciliation into the area of mandatory enforcement.

Complaints filed with HUD are investigated by the Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity (FHEO). If the complaint is not successfully conciliated, FHEO determines whether reasonable cause exists to believe that a discriminatory housing practice has occurred. Where reasonable cause is found , the parties to the complaint are notified by HUD’s issuance of a Determination, as well as a Charge of Discrimination, and a hearing is scheduled before a HUD administrative law judge. Either party – complainant or respondent – may cause the HUD-scheduled administrative proceeding to be terminated by electing instead to have the matter litigated in Federal court. Whenever a party has so elected, the Department of Justice takes over HUD’s role as counsel seeking resolution of the charge on behalf of aggrieved persons, and the matter proceeds as a civil action. Either form of action – the ALJ proceeding or the civil action in Federal court – is subject to review in the U.S. Court of Appeals.

Significant Recent Changes

  1. The Housing for Older Persons Act of 1995 (HOPA) makes several changes to the 55 and older exemption. Since the 1988 Amendments, the Fair Housing Act has exempted from its familial status provisions properties that satisfy the Act’s 55 and older housing condition.First, it eliminates the requirement that 55 and older housing have significant facilities and services designed for the elderly. Second, HOPA establishes a good faith reliance immunity from damages for persons who in good faith believe that the 55 and older exemption applies to a particular property, if they do not actually know that the property is not eligible for the exemption and if the property has formally stated in writing that it qualifies for the exemption.
    HOPA retains the requirement that senior housing must have one person who is 55 years of age or older living in at least 80 percent of its occupied units. It also still requires that senior housing publish and follow policies and procedures that demonstrate an intent to be housing for persons 55 and older.

    An exempt property will not violate the Fair Housing Act if it includes families with children, but it does not have to do so. Of course, the property must meet the Act’s requirements that at least 80 percent of its occupied units have at least one occupant who is 55 or older, and that it publish and follow policies and procedures that demonstrate an intent to be 55 and older housing.

    A Department of Housing and Urban Development rule published in the April 2, 1999, Federal Register implements the Housing for Older Persons Act of 1995, and explains in detail those provisions of the Fair Housing Act that pertain to senior housing.

  2. Changes were made to enhance law enforcement, including making amendments to criminal penalties in section 901 of the Civil Rights Act of 1968 for violating the Fair Housing Act.
  3. Changes were made to provide incentives for self-testing by lenders for discrimination under the Fair Housing Act and the Equal Credit Opportunity Act. See Title II, subtitle D of the Omnibus Consolidated Appropriations Act, 1997, P.L. 104 – 208 (9/30/96).

What Housing Is Covered?

The Fair Housing Act covers most housing. In some circumstances, the Act exempts owner-occupied buildings with no more than four units, single-family housing sold or rented without the use of a broker, and housing operated by organizations and private clubs that limit occupancy to members.

What Is Prohibited?

In the Sale and Rental of Housing: No one may take any of the following actions based on race, color, national origin, religion, sex, familial status or handicap:

  • Refuse to rent or sell housing
  • Refuse to negotiate for housing
  • Make housing unavailable
  • Deny a dwelling
  • Set different terms, conditions or privileges for sale or rental of a dwelling
  • Provide different housing services or facilities
  • Falsely deny that housing is available for inspection, sale, or rental
  • For profit, persuade owners to sell or rent (blockbusting) or
  • Deny anyone access to or membership in a facility or service (such as a multiple listing service) related to the sale or rental of housing.

In Mortgage Lending: No one may take any of the following actions based on race, color, national origin, religion, sex, familial status or handicap (disability):

  • Refuse to make a mortgage loan
  • Refuse to provide information regarding loans
  • Impose different terms or conditions on a loan, such as different interest rates, points, or fees
  • Discriminate in appraising property
  • Refuse to purchase a loan or
  • Set different terms or conditions for purchasing a loan.

In Addition: It is illegal for anyone to:

  • Threaten, coerce, intimidate or interfere with anyone exercising a fair housing right or assisting others who exercise that right
  • Advertise or make any statement that indicates a limitation or preference based on race, color, national origin, religion, sex, familial status, or handicap. This prohibition against discriminatory advertising applies to single-family and owner-occupied housing that is otherwise exempt from the Fair Housing Act.

Additional Protection if You Have a Disability

If you or someone associated with you:

  • Have a physical or mental disability (including hearing, mobility and visual impairments, chronic alcoholism, chronic mental illness, AIDS, AIDS Related Complex and mental retardation) that substantially limits one or more major life activities
  • Have a record of such a disability or
  • Are regarded as having such a disability

your landlord may not:

  • Refuse to let you make reasonable modifications to your dwelling or common use areas, at your expense, if necessary for the disabled person to use the housing. (Where reasonable, the landlord may permit changes only if you agree to restore the property to its original condition when you move.)
  • Refuse to make reasonable accommodations in rules, policies, practices or services if necessary for the disabled person to use the housing.

Example: A building with a no pets policy must allow a visually impaired tenant to keep a guide dog.

Example: An apartment complex that offers tenants ample, unassigned parking must honor a request from a mobility-impaired tenant for a reserved space near her apartment if necessary to assure that she can have access to her apartment.

However, housing need not be made available to a person who is a direct threat to the health or safety of others or who currently uses illegal drugs.

Requirements for New Buildings

In buildings that are ready for first occupancy after March 13, 1991, and have an elevator and four or more units:

  • Public and common areas must be accessible to persons with disabilities
  • Doors and hallways must be wide enough for wheelchairs
  • All units must have:
    • An accessible route into and through the unit
    • Accessible light switches, electrical outlets, thermostats and other environmental controls
    • Reinforced bathroom walls to allow later installation of grab bars and
    • Kitchens and bathrooms that can be used by people in wheelchairs.

If a building with four or more units has no elevator and will be ready for first occupancy after March 13, 1991, these standards apply to ground floor units.

These requirements for new buildings do not replace any more stringent standards in State or local law.

Housing Opportunities for Families

Unless a building or community qualifies as housing for older persons, it may not discriminate based on familial status. That is, it may not discriminate against families in which one or more children under 18 live with:

  • A parent
  • A person who has legal custody of the child or children or
  • The designee of the parent or legal custodian, with the parent or custodian’s written permission.

Familial status protection also applies to pregnant women and anyone securing legal custody of a child under 18.

Exemption: Housing for older persons is exempt from the prohibition against familial status discrimination if:

  • The HUD Secretary has determined that it is specifically designed for and occupied by elderly persons under a Federal, State or local government program or
  • It is occupied solely by persons who are 62 or older or
  • It houses at least one person who is 55 or older in at least 80 percent of the occupied units, and adheres to a policy that demonstrates an intent to house persons who are 55 or older.

A transition period permits residents on or before September 13, 1988, to continue living in the housing, regardless of their age, without interfering with the exemption.

This law is in place to guarantee that you can buy where you want to buy. It in no way suggests that the features of any home or neighborhood can dictate your ability to purchase.

Santa and the very first Christmas

Hmmmm, well the story begins, like all good stories do, a long, long time ago in a place that few people ever visit.  If you were to go there, you would have to plan very well. You might have to pack a gazillion lunches just to eat along the way. Why from your front door, you would have to travel down the street and across the town and head north. From where you sit right now, well this place is at the tippy top of the world. It is a place where snow flies every day and the word heard most often is “BRRRRR”.north pole

That’s right, this story begins all the way up to the North Pole.

Now I’m sure you’ve heard different stories about elves and reindeer and a Grinch and Charlie Brown. You’ve even seen pictures of Santa Claus and his sleigh. Come to think of it, you may have even sat on Santa’s lap and had your picture taken. He tries to get around to every shopping center and mall and store to see your smiling faces. I bet some of you even have an Elf sitting right in your house, making sure that you are being good.

Most of you never ask…..Where did Santa come from?” Oh, you might wonder or maybe you have whispered to mom or dad or a friend “Why does Santa do this?”. “Where is he after Christmas?” “Why does he always come on the same day, every year?”

Santa is a mystery, isn’t he? I don’t think I know anybody else that wears a red suit. And I have never actually seen reindeer fly through the sky. I’ll bet you have not seen that either. And every picture I see of Santa, well he just has one big bag of toys and presents. How can one bag hold presents for everybody in the whole wide world? It must be some sort of magic.

The answer is found in the story.

santa workshop

Many, many, many, many years ago, almost all the calendars you can find, Santa Claus lived in a tiny little cottage right smack dab in the middle of the North Pole. He was born there. He came from a secret town just outside the North Pole. He had grown up in that secret town. It was sort of a sad place. The mayor of the town was a grumpy man. He made a rule – there will be no celebrations, ever.

There will be no New Year’s Eve and no New Year’s Day. No Valentine’s Day, No Mother’s Day. No Father’s Day, No Fourth of July, No Thanksgiving…No celebrating the change of seasons, no Spring, no Summer, no Fall and no Winter…..and the final rule …. NO Birthdays. Not one, not some, not any….NONE.

Santa grew up in that very sad part of town. He was a toy maker in a town where no one bought any toys. He had a little workshop on the edge of town. He would cut wood and bend steel and shape plastic. He made bicycles and sleds and dolls and balls. He made all sorts of toys. And every night he would sit on a bench in front of his workshop and wonder, what will I ever do with these toys?

It was hard work, but Santa knew that one day the grumpy mayor would not be in charge and everyone could celebrate holidays again. He just knew that to be true.

It was a chilly afternoon, the snow was blowing outside and Santa took a break to watch the snowflakes fall. He thought frozen elfsnow made the whole world look magical. As he was looking out the window, he noticed a group of small figures huddled under a great big pine tree. They were shivering and warming their hands by a little fire they had made with twigs and branches.

Santa opened his door and called out, “Come inside and warm yourself by my fire. I will put some hot chocolate on the stove. Come in, come in.’

Santa turned and put a pot of hot chocolate on his stove. He heard the commotion of little feet coming through his door. When he looked to see who his visitors were, his eyes opened wide with wonder.  Standing by his fireplace was a group of little people. Elves if you will. They were shivering and their teeth were chattering. They stood in puddles made by the ice melting from their clothes.

“Goodness, why were you all out in that storm?”, Santa asked.

One of the elves looked up at him and said, “Don’t you know. We are not like all the others in town. We are smaller and people in town are so much taller. They laugh at us and make fun of us. They won’t let us work or play. It is very hard being a tiny elf in a big person world. So we just gather twigs for people so they can start fires. Some of us climb down in wells and save kittens that have fallen in. Then some of us hunt in tiny spaces for socks that get lost in the wash. We do what we can, but people still make fun of us. It is very hard being a tiny elf in a big person world. Only the children are nice to us, but as you know, children grow up and become big people too.”

Santa rubbed the beard on his chin. “Well, I sure could use some help around here in my workshop. Would you like to learn how to make toys and other presents? We could build a little house next to the workshop and you would have a place to stay and your own fire to keep you warm?”

The elves all got excited and began to clap their hands. The head elf put up his tine hand and shushed them. “Shhhhhh. Let’s calm down. We have a place to stay, it is a glorious day, but we don’t want the mayor to catch us celebrating. You know, all celebrations are illegal!”

That night, the elves all slept on the floor in front of the fire. Santa laid in his bed, a smile on his face. Tomorrow would be a grand day.

elves workingAs soon as the sun rose the next morning, Santa and the elves went to work building the house. They hammered and sawed and hammered some more. Soon, a fine looking house came into shape. There was a kitchen for cooking and a dining room with a table large enough that everyone had a seat and a gigantic workshop where they could make toys.

Within a short period of time, the elves were making toys from morning to night.

One afternoon, Santa came to their workshop and told the elf by the door, “I have a special announcement to make, can you get the elves attention please?”.  The elf reached down and picked up a bright brass trumpet he had made and blew into it.

“Ba-baaaaaaaaaah. Ba-baaaaaah”. All the elves stopped what they were doing an looked to the door. Santa waited until it was very quiet. He turned an opened the door and in walked the most beautiful woman any of the elves had ever seen. Her smile was radiant. Her eyes sparkled. She was wearing a white sweater and a wonderful satin red skirt trimmed in fur as white as the snow. She was just beautiful.

Elves, I want to introduce to you my wife, this is Maria Claus. We were just married by that grumpy mayor. She will be santa introduces wifeliving with me in the cottage. Now we know celebrations are against the law, but we came here right away to share the good news with you. Finally, we have someone to tuck us in at night and someone to make sure we make our bed and brush our teeth. And, Mrs. Claus is a much better cook than I.”

The elves all smiled and nodded their heads. They couldn’t clap and cheer, but their hearts were happy.

Things went on and toys were made and toys were stored. Over time, the elves had to build a large barn to store all the toys. They kept making them, but no one had a reason to give them away. The first barn was filled up and another was built and then another and another and another.

One evening, while Santa and elves were eating a fine dinner Mrs. Claus had made, there was a knock at the door.

“Who could be calling on us this late in the evening”, Santa asked out loud. The elves looked at one another and shrugged their shoulders. Not one of them could imagine who might be at the door. No one ever came to the workshop. No one ever needed toys. Remember, no birthdays were allowed. NO Birthdays. Not one, not some, not any….NONE. There was no time for toys to be given.

Mrs. Claus opened the door and invited the guest inside. The elves eyes grew wide. Two men entered the room. They were wearing fine flowing robes and each one had a golden crown on his head. They had long beards. One of the men sort of looked like an eskimo and the other had skin as dark as the darkest night. As they walked by the elves to the fire, the air filled with the sweet smell of incense and myrrh.

two kings

Santa waited while the two men warmed themselves by the fire.

“Good evening to you. Please, once you have warmed yourselves, join us for dinner. My wife, Mrs. Claus has prepared a delicious stew and we have more than enough to share with you.”

The two strangers set down the boxes they were carrying and hung their robes by the fire. The came over to the table and sat down. Two of the elves rushed over to the cabinet and got down a couple more bowls and set them before the guests.

Mrs. Claus brought the pot of stew from the stove and served each of the men a full bowl. “It is such a cold night, what brings you to our home?”

One of the men spoke. “He and I are kings”, he said, pointing to his companion. “We have been travelling for weeks and months now. We were told of the upcoming birth of a very special baby. It was written that his birth would bring peace on earth and good will to all men. We spoke with our council of advisors. They told us that a bright star would appear in the sky. We should follow that star and it would lead us to the birthplace of this child. We have Frankincense and Myrrh to bring as gifts to the new born. We have been following the bright star over your cottage. It led us to your traveling kingsdoor. Is there a newborn child here?”

Santa looked at Mrs. Claus and she looked back at him. They both slowly shook their heads.

“Why no, we don’t know of any special baby being born and as you can see, it is only us and the elves here. Your advisors must be mistaken. The bright star overhead is the North Star. This is the North Pole. People here have used that star to find their way home forever. It always shines overhead.”

The two kings began whispering to one another. They pulled out a map and in hushed tones began discussing where they may have missed a turn. They kept shaking their heads.

“No, our advisors checked and double checked the story. A star would shine and we should follow that star. We would find a newborn baby, and the world would celebrate.”

“Well”, Santa said, “that cannot be here. Celebrations are not allowed. The mayor made the rule. No celebrations. No holidays. No Celebrations. NO Birthdays. Not one, not some, not any….NONE”.

The smallest of the elves jumped from his seat at the table and ran over to Santa. He motioned for Santa to lean over so he could whisper in his ear.

“Wspwspwsp, wspwspwspwsp, wspwspwsp.”

The elf pointed to the window on the east side of the cottage. He shook his head up and down. He ran to the window window starand waved his finger and pointed up to the sky.

Santa walked over and looked out the window. The rest of the elves followed along. Mrs. Claus came as well and gasped as she saw what the elf was pointing at.

“You two need to see this.”, she said. The two kings got up from the table and joined the others looking out the window to the east.

Far, far away, but brighter than any other, a star was in the eastern sky. It was just above the horizon. There was no doubt. This was the star the council of advisors had spoken of when giving the two kings directions.

“It is on the horizon. That indicates to me that it is over a town that is very far away. Why don’t you rest here tonight? You can plan the rest of your trip tomorrow and be on your way. We have room for you here.” Mrs. Claus said.

The elves made up two more beds and the two kings washed up, brushed their teeth and got into bed. Soon all the elves were in bed and Mrs. Claus came in and tucked each one of them and the two kings in for a good night’s sleep.

Santa was sitting in his favorite chair eating a snack of chocolate chip cookies and milk when Mrs. Claus came back to cookies and milkthe cottage. She noticed that Santa had a faraway look in his eyes. It was a look she was familiar with. Every time Santa began thinking of ways to make people happy, he got that look.

She sat in her chair, next to his and held her hands out to the fire to warm them. She rubbed them together and made a commotion blowing on them.

Santa looked over. “Are you warm enough? Shall I put another log on the fire?”

“No, it’s just the chill from walking back to the cottage from the elves home. I noticed you staring off and was wondering what is on your mind?”

“Well, we are not allowed to celebrate here. No holidays. NO Birthdays. Not one, not some, not any….NONE.. And listening to those two kings, I was just wondering. Wouldn’t it be nice to take a gift to the little baby? Imagine, we could actually give a gift on a birthday. It would be a dream come true. What do you think?”

“ Santa, you and the elves have been making presents for years and years and years. Something has to change or we will just keep building barns to store perfectly good presents that no one ever receives. But, if you go, you can’t just take a ball or a sled or a doll or wooden horse. You have to take a gift that is more valuable that all the others combined. It must be the gift of gifts.”

me and mrsSanta stood and took Mrs. Claus by the hand, “Just like always, you have the best answer. Let me think about this and see if the two kings will allow me to go along. After all, I do know every star in the sky, so I will keep them on course. Let’s go to bed. In the morning we shall share our thoughts with the guests.’

Before the sun even peeked over the horizon in the morning, Santa was going through the storage barns looking for the perfect gift. Elves were scattered from one corner to another, from one end of one barn the very end of another. They were digging and emptying bags and boxes, lifting one toy, shaking their head, setting it down and lifting another only to set it down and dig yet again. The search for the perfect gift was on.

Back in the dining area, Mrs. Claus was serving breakfast and coffee to the guests.

“You know Santa knows every star in the sky. He could probably guide your way each night. In short order, you will reach your destination. If you let him join you, we both would be delighted. Right now, he is going through all the gifts he has made to find the best one for this baby.”

The two kings quietly conferred with one another.

“It would be wonderful if Santa could join us. We must hurry; the baby could be born anytime.”

Santa burst through the door.me santa

“I’ve found it!!!” he exclaimed.

They all looked to him as he held out his hand.

It was a bright, shiny golden coin shaped thing.

“It is so pretty dear”, Mrs. Claus shared, “But, what is it?”.

The two kings looked at one another and nodded their heads. They knew right away what Santa had in his hand. They rushed over to see it.

Santa held it up and twirled it around.

This is the perfect gift. It came to me in my sleep last night. Everyone is always so busy. With so much to do each day, we just don’t have time to get it all done. It seems like even important things get pushed aside. This is the one thing that will keep everyone on course.”

Mrs. Claus smiled, “That’s nice dear, but what is it?”

round to it

Santa held the coin shaped object up between his thumb and forefinger. “This is a gold round tuit.”

As long as the child keeps this in his pocket, he will always accomplish the task at hand. Each time he has a lot to do and thinks of putting something off until he gets around to-it, he will feel this coin in his pocket and finish the job.”

“Now we have Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh!”

That evening the two kings wrapped in their fine robes were joined by Santa as they began following the star. Santa, of course, was wrapped in a beautiful red robe that was trimmed in bright white fur.

After many days, they came over a hill and saw a herd of sheep grazing. There was no shepherd in sight. Below them was a little town. The star was bright above.

Santa said, “This is the place.”RoadtoBeth

They went down the hill and around an inn to a stable in the back. There was a group of shepherds surrounding an area in the rear of the stable.  A man was standing next to a woman whom was holding a new born. The air was filled with the music of what sounded like an angelic choir.

The two kings stepped forward and presented their gifts. The woman looked up and smiled. She motioned for the gentle, white bearded man dressed in red to come forward.

santa and jesusSanta slowly approached and laid his gold round tuit before the child. The baby smiled and Santa was absolutely sure the baby had winked at him. He felt a strange tingling feeling all over.

The man, standing next to the woman and child whispered.

You have brought joy to the baby. I promise you that from this day forward, you will bring joy to all the children, all over the world. Every year, you will help celebrate this day. You will travel with the speed of light, house to house, home to home, near and far. You will bring gifts that will bring the joy you brought today to every child. No mayor, no government, no group shall ever have the power to stop you. Your spirit shall touch souls in every corner of the world. Season’s Greetings Santa..”

Santa nodded his head and went back outside. There was a sleigh and eight reindeer right outside the stable door. Like magic, an elf appeared and said “Santa, we have places to go and all in this one night, climb aboard the sleigh, let’s go.”

Santa took the reins in one hand and a whip in the other. He cracked the whip in the air above the reindeer’s head.

He then shared that oft quoted phrase for the first time.

Now Dasher, now Dancer, now Prancer and Vixen, on Comet, on Cupid, on Donner and Blitzen. To the top of the stable, to the top of the wall, now dash away, dash away, dash away all!”

The shepherds looked up, the mother and child all stared. Everyone marveled at the experience they shared and as Santa became but a speck in that star filled sky, they heard him exclaim…

“Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night!”santa flys

So now, you know how it all started, and when you see little people, don’t laugh. They may be some of Santa’s finest elves, just living near you to keep an eye on who’s naughty and nice. Oh, and never forget, that first gift was a round tuit, to remind everyone, you have a round tuit in your heart. Don’t put chores off until you get a round to it.  You have one already.

And Santa, well, he was very real on that first Christmas and he is very real today. And he loves you just like you are.

Merry Christmas

Save McMillan Park

McMillan-Park-Green-Tower

Sometimes progress is not accomplished by destroying the old and replacing it with the new. Lives are not always enhanced when yesterday becomes nothing more than rubble to be removed and history is paved over with parking lots. History is littered with bureaucratic “oops” over decisions made that resulted in the loss of pieces of yesterday, that can never be recovered. Let it be said – Save McMillan Park is not the battle cry of those opposed to improving the quality of life in Bloomingdale (or any other part of the Nation’s Capitol). It is a plaintive cry echoing from the voice of reason. Save McMillan Park.

Millions of people have driven by the old brick towers located off North Capitol Street just south of the VA Medical Center/Washington MedStar  Complex. It has been fenced off since after WWII. I remember sitting in the back of my father’s old Buick, looking out the window and wondering what that mysterious place might be. Little did I know or understand the wheeling and dealing that was occurring regarding the structures and the future of the site.

3-filtration-below-light

McMillan Park is actually the site of a water filtration plant. McMillan was the city’s first water treatment plant, built in 1905, and played an important element in the city’s water supply system, preventing the spread of typhoid and other water-borne diseases. It was in use until 1986 when the Army Corps of Engineers updated to a newer system. In 1987 ownership and control of the park was transferred to the District of Columbia (The choice for DC was accept the land and existing structures for $1 with the caveat that it would be used as a park or pay $9.3 million with no caveats). DC (using logic that totally escapes me) chose to pay $9.3 million. Oh there was hope that they could just raze the structures, pave it over and have a shopping center with a brand new K-Mart. Fortunately, those plans were placed in the large circular file when the property was listed on the DC Inventory of Historic Sites. Now the site has also been added to the National Register of Historic Places. Today, plans for the future of McMillan Park are in the hands of a team of developers, now known as Vision McMillan Park(VMP), to design new space for housing and retail on the site.

The quiet voice that has increased it’s volume regarding the future of McMillan Park emanates from the Friends of McMillan Park. Before you support the destruction of this beautiful site, you should spend a few moments reading about the park and what it could be on their site.

reservoir

The beautiful reservoir pictured is located minutes from the US Capitol Building. As a matter of fact, if you stand at the center of its prominent vista, you’ll find a gorgeous view the National Basilica to the northeast, Howard University’s Independence Hall to the west, and the Capitol and  Washington monument to the south. There may not be a more beautiful spot in the city. It should be saved.  The final plan should dovetail with the one that the Friends of McMillan Park endorsed.  If we have learned nothing else in our mad rush to raze, pave and construct on every patch of dirt left in the area, we should have realized that preserving historical sites enhances the quality of life in the city.

Progress does not have to be accomplished through the removal of every scintilla of the past. Parks are for people. Parks are a place where we interact with one another. Shopping malls and K-Marts are get in and get out destinations. The people of Bloomingdale and the rest of the city will be better served now and in the future if the DC government heeds the call to Save McMillan Park.

images used have been garnered from sites supporting saving mcmillan park. they are not mine and only represent a bit of the beauty found on the grounds.

You can not get lost in Washington DC

United States Capitol at Dusk

Getting around DC may seem like a mystery if you are new to the area (people that have grown up in the suburbs face the same challenges as those that move here from afar). As a lifelong resident, and one that travels across the city almost every day, I promise you getting from here to there can be mastered.

At some point, you may have heard that the city was laid out by L’Enfant and in many ways it resembles Paris. Well, that was then and this is now.You may arrive in town via a plane, train or automobile. You will discover DC now has a subway, zip cars and a bike share program. There are metro buses and circulator buses. There are taxi cabs, limo’s and Uber’s. Each system interconnects with another so you may use more than one when getting from point A to point B. Of course, the number one mode of moving about is pedestrian. In DC, you can saunter, stroll, speed walk and jog.

The big challenge most people face is not how to get there, but HOW to get there. Let’s set the fear of getting lost aside. You can not get lost in DC. You may not be sure where you are, but where you are relates to everywhere else in a pretty orderly manner. Trust me on this. No matter where you are, you can walk about two blocks and you will know where you are and how it relates to where you are going.

The city is laid out in a grid fashion with the Capitol Building being the center (I know, it is not even close to the geographic center, but everything is centered on the building).

If you were to climb atop the Capitol Building, North Capitol Street would head directly north, South Capitol Street would head to the south and East Capitol Street would head to the east. There is no West Capitol Street because the land between the Capitol and the Lincoln Memorial is pretty much our national mall.

Now, streets that run north and south are numbered and the numbers are higher as you move away from the Capitol. Yes, there are exceptions to the rule, but if you go east or west a few blocks from any point, you will reach a numbered street. How do you know you are heading east or west? The streets going east and west are named. Those closest to the Capitol are named letters in the alphabet. You will find an occasional named street mixed in, but the alphabetical streets are sequential. The next series are alphabetical with two syllable words (i.e., Adams, Bryant, and so on). Again, anomalies have been mixed in over the years, but this pattern continues until you reach Allison and the pattern starts over with three syllable words. As you get farther out, neighborhoods cropped up and other names were added.

A few odd ball things seem to occur in some areas. In NW, 7th St appears to turn into Georgia Avenue. Georgia continues all the way out to Silver Spring and beyond. 7th St NW reappears up above Columbia Road NW, 17th St NW does turn into Connecticut Avenue and is never heard from again. Connecticut continues all the way into Chevy Chase and beyond. Wisconsin Avenue NW is in a class unto itself. It runs from the river, north all the way into Friendship Heights.

Having lived here all my life, I have discovered short cuts that make rush hour bearable. It is possible to leave the Capitol and be in Montgomery County in 30-45 minutes during rush hour. You can get across town without struggling light to light. That will come with time. For now, you have an basic understanding of how the city is laid out and you are on your way to understanding, you can’t get lost in this city.

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Title Companies.. they are not all the same

In Maryland, the buyer has the right to choose the title company that will handle the closing of the transaction.  Very few buyers have a close relationship with any title company, so they seek the advice and/or counsel of their real estate agent.  Seems like a reasonable thing to do.  After all, real estate agents should have a good idea about title companies.

The first thing you should know is that the amount of money you can be charged for title insurance in Maryland is pretty much set by the State.  It will not or should not vary much from one title company to another.

Title companies can charge whatever they want for other fees associated with the transfer of property. Of course, the current HUD-1 in use in Maryland (a breakdown of how the money flows in the transaction) reveals the title companies charges on page two. I know that the settlement charges to the buyer and seller appear on page one, but that figure is a gross figure that includes all the charges.

The actual breakdown is on page two, where the buyer’s charges appear in one column and the seller’s charges appear in another. You just have to go down to the 1100 section Title Charges and see what is being charged each side. The biggest numbers involve title insurance. There is lender’s title insurance (required by the lender) and there is owner’s title insurance (optional). I will forever fall on the side of the equation that believes purchasing owner’s title insurance is absolutely necessary. It is a small price to pay for coverage of any lies, deceit or malfeasance that may have occurred prior to the buyer taking title.

Of course, it is always a good idea to ask your agent if there is a title insurance policy on the home you are buying that has a re-issue rate available.

Beyond those charges, there are minimal fees for closing the transaction. Note, the buyer usually catches a break here because they have chosen the title company. (If the title company wants to realize $250 per closing, they will just dump the cost on the seller’s side and leave the impression that they have done a wonderful thing for the buyer. “See the benefit of choosing our firm to handle the transaction?”)

There will be other costs. An abstract or Title Search fee will be there. Larger title companies have folks that do this in-house and smaller firms contract out for the service. You pay what the title company decides you should pay, regardless of the actual cost of having the search done.  I often wonder if there were a six or seven layers of contractors in title searches if the cost to the consumer would be so beefed up they would need a second trust to cover it? Sort of layer 7 charges layer 6 $X for doing the search and then layer 6 charges layer 5  $X+10%=Y, and layer 5 charges layer 4 $Y+10% and do on.  I am not sure there is no law preventing that from happening. Laws are written by lawyers and you know how that goes.

The final fee is Deed Preparation. This fee remains $100 +/- with most firms.  Even though, boiler plate deeds are available and computers have replaced typewriters and deeds can be whipped out in minutes, you are paying whatever the market will bear. Don’t fall for the old, “I am liable for any mistakes” statement. During closing, you will be asked to sign a form allowing the title company to make any corrections necessary to any of the documents.  Just understand, Deed Prep is priced according to the desires of the company.

Don’t get me wrong, The title company should be paid. It is real estate and everyone should get paid. Oh, and everyone does get paid.

So, what is the difference in title companies?  Some actually offer support. Some actually go overboard when making sure the transaction closes when and where it is required.  Some readily answer any and all questions. Some are available to “hold hands” or “resolve differences” or “work through challenging issues”.

I have had the good fortune to work with many of the title companies in the area. It is no secret that many brokers have a “close” relationship with some title companies. A little thing called RESPA (a federal law that frowns on “kickbacks for referrals, etc.”) caused a stirring of the pot in those broker/title company relationships. Some brokers still own a piece of a title company, and for the “convenience of the consumer” offer them office space in the broker’s building. Others just label the title company that shares a cozy relationship with them as “preferred providers”.  NOTE TO CONSUMERS: Preferred provider label indicates preferred by broker.

When my buyer clients ask me for the name of a title company, I always share Capitol Settlements. 240-599-2200.  Every time my clients either choose someone else or find themselves contractually forced to use another title company, my support of Capitol Settlements grows. I don’t have a dog in the fight. I have a client that deserves the absolute best in service. Capitol Settlements provides that service to both sides equally.  They answer phone calls. They handle closings off site. They work with folks locally and out of the area. They get the job done.  They are the go to title company for many banks in the area. The fees they charge both sides are usually equal to or less than what other firms quote.

So the money is the same. Why go with anyone else? I would not dare recommend anyone else.

Capitol Settlements  240-599-2200

Let’s talk about loans …

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O.K. maybe not loans, but I think everyone should have a short primer regarding how folks pay for a house.  It really doesn’t matter if it is a co-op, a condo, a town home or a single family home.  One of the basic rules of contract law includes the need for consideration. Consideration is just a fancy legal term for money. If you want to buy a house, you have to be able to produce the funds at settlement.

Now, if you happen to be loaded and can pay cash for the house, well you can either read through this for information, or you can check out another one of the articles I have written. For those of you that want to buy a home and don’t have cash on hand, this is for you.

For purposes of example, I will use a $500,000 purchase price. You and the seller have agreed on the price. Well now, wait a minute, let’s back up. You really should have an idea about all of this before you begin looking for a home.  The very first question you have to ask yourself after deciding you want to own a home of your own is how much can I pay for a home (keeping mindful that your comfort level should be dictated by what you can afford and not what you would like).

I am not a lender. I can only give you general advice in this area. Let’s make that specific advice. After reading this primer, talk to a bonafide lender! Then talk to another. Keep talking until you find one that you are comfortable with. They will provide the rock that your dreams of owning a home will be built upon. The lender will gather information about you and tell you what you can borrow.

The most basic loan is a conventional loan.  Lenders like this sort of loan because it requires that the borrower (you) contribute at least a 20% down payment.  In the example of a $500.000 purchase, you will be putting at least $100,000 down and the lender will provide the rest of the money. Each month you will make a payment that includes principal and interest.  If you do not have 20% down, you can receive a gift from parents or grandparents or anyone to make up the difference. You will need to provide the lender with proof that it is in fact a gift and not a loan. If you just don’t have the 20% down, you have other options.

The FHA guarantees loans. That just means that your lender will have insurance that some of the money you borrowed is guaranteed to be paid back. If you default, the insurance involved steps in. This guarantee allows lenders to loan money to people that don’t have the 20% down payment available. You still have to have at least 3.5% of the purchase price available, and there are limits on how much money you can borrow. The credit demands are a bit less restrictive. Oh, and you still go through the underwriting process. The FHA has rules about who can qualify and their criteria must be met. Every month you will have a payment that includes principal and interest and the mortgage insurance premium (yep, you have to pay the insurance. if you don’t like that, put 20% down).

Veterans have loan guarantees available to them as well. They can get a VA loan. This type of loan is from lenders but it is guaranteed by the Veteran’s Administration. Another feature of the VA loan is that you don’t have to have any money down. This sounds great, but the flip side is that you will have a higher mortgage and you will have  VA fee as well. The VA doesn’t lend the money. Just like the FHA, they guarantee a portion of the loan. That’s right, you pay the premium for the protection.

In some areas, the USDA guarantees loans. It is very similar to the VA in that, you don’t have to put any money down. Again, remember your loan amount will be higher and your payments will be higher as well. This is a great program if you are purchasing a home in an area where these loans are available.

Of course there are all sorts of hybrid loan types out there. There are terms that vary with lenders.

Things to know.  An ARM is an adjustable rate mortgage.  Simply put, the interest rate is fixed for a short term and then it can go up or down depending on the market. Usually, there is a cap on the interest rate (i.e. the highest amount the interest can be).  Lenders offer these loans at attractive rates. You should always consider what you can afford at the market rate today, that means the size mortgage you are comfortable paying at market rates.  Use the lower rate as a saving not a method to qualify for more home  (if variable rates are lower, borrow less and invest the saved money). NOTE: that is just my opinion. I really believe borrowing money, hoping that your income will go up when the rates go up is a fast track to foreclosure.

An interest only loan is another product some lenders offer. Not a bad deal for the lender. You move in. You pay interest on the loan until the interest only term runs out and then your payment shoots up like a rocket ship on rails. Oops. You can’t pay and the home goes into foreclosure. Interest only loans only have the interest of the lender at heart.

So it is not really confusing. There is a conventional loan and then there are other products available to those that do not have sufficient money saved to buy a home. Lots of people have used the FHA guaranteed loans and VA guaranteed loans and USDA supported loans. They are good loans. As a matter of fact, all loan products are good products if they are used by the right borrower.

Buying a home is a major step. I think it is wise to have some money set aside to invest in your purchase.  Of course, you may use a loan product that does not require that you put that money into the purchase of the home. Home ownership is not cheap. The money should be set aside for maintenance and upkeep. It will be your home after all.

If you have any questions, talk to your lender. If you are in the DC area and do not have a lender, I will provide you with a list of three names. You can call them all.

Once you have been pre-approved and are ready to begin the search, well, that”s my area of expertise. Once you are in my hands, I will review where you are with the lender, offer some advice about fine tuning the financing and then I will listen to you tell me a tale of your dreams and set out to assist you in making those dreams come true.

As always, I am only a phone call away…. 301-509-5111