Thursday, March 31, 2011

How a bureaucrat mows the lawn

Take a government agency in a country that covers most of a continent plus assorted outposts beyond. Put it in charge of routine maintenance for foreclosed houses all over the country. The agency will find itself vexed by attempts to issue general directives for locally varying needs. These are of course needs that would be matters of ordinary common sense to people living in their own houses had such houses not in fact been foreclosed.

The situation evokes Franz Kafka's sadly merciful view of people who have become parts of a clumsy and sometimes unintentionally harmful machine through no clumsiness or ill will of their own. It's not that any of the officials is being stupid or willfully obtuse -- in fact the authors of these directives seem to be working out the problems as best they can. It's just not their fault that properties differ, and the grass in Florida grows differently than in Alaska.

I'm talking specifically about HUD's instructions to lenders who have taken charge of foreclosed houses that had FHA-insured mortgages, but have not been transferred to direct FHA control -- possibly because they haven't been fixed up to HUD's standards for accepting properties. (I don't know anything about the detail-level accuracy of this site but it gives a pretty good general idea of why a lender might get stuck with an FHA-insured house that the FHA as yet refuses to touch.)

Some examples appear on this page. For example, "Clarification of boarding issues within certain zip codes in the City of Philadelphia...," which sadly does not relate to persons in need of room and board, but instead explains that in a certain newly defined range of zip codes, foreclosed houses get to have real windows and doors, not plywood -- and if you remember the chilling uses of boarded buildings seen in "The Wire", it's quite a thought that such decisions are made by zip code. (And, yeah, I have to wonder how much sympathy is due to officials who decide by neighborhood whether to board a property or preserve it intact. But that's an exploration for another day.)

Anyhow, there has lately been some anxiety about when HUD will pay to cut the grass. The determination in response (as summarized in a HUD listserv) has been that
"With grass cut season beginning Friday, April 1, 2011, HUD will extend the use of the cost schedule listed in ML 2008-31 Attachment 6 “Yard Maintenance and Snow Removal Requirements["], Page 39 through the end of the 2011 grass cut season."
If you want the details, or if you just want an example of how variety in the human and natural world inevitably makes big institutions look silly, well, that extension of the former cost schedule appears in a recently updated Q&A document interpreting Mortgagee Letter 2010-18 and referring to its predecessors, ML 2008-31 and its attachment.

The Q&A further admits that "grass cut season" lasts all year in Arizona, California, Nevada, Hawaii, the Pacific Islands and Florida. (Who knew?)

ML 2010-18 further reveals that grass cutting starts June 1 in Alaska. It also states:
"Grass should be cut to a maximum of two inches in length. Grass and weeds are to be cut to the edge of the property line, trimmed around foundations, bushes, trees, and planting beds. Grass and weeds should also be trimmed flush with fences and other construction that would normally require trimming."
And thanks for that.

I am making here, btw, a typically conservative argument about local control that, however, ends up in a place you might call socialist: in favor of not foreclosing on people or, if the former borrowers are long gone, then at least in favor of allowing someone else to live there who will mow the lawn without instructions from tired officials in Washington who have better things to do.

No comments:

Post a Comment