About Michael Freeman

Michael W. Freeman is a veteran journalist, playwright and author. Born and raised in Fall River, Massachusetts, he has lived in Orlando since 2002. Michael has worked for some of Florida’s largest newspapers, including The Orlando Sentinel. His original plays have draw strong audiences at the Orlando Fringe Festival. He is the author of the novels “Bloody Rabbit” and “Koby’s New Home.”

Tea Party chairman says “Republicans have to deliver” — but probably won’t.

ORLANDO – Looking at the huge victories won by the Republican Party last November, when the GOP picked up 63 seats in Congress, the chairman of the Florida Tea Party expects her movement to experience something this year: a golden opportunity.

Peg Dunmire, who is building up the Florida Tea Party to become a legitimate alternative to the Democrats and Republicans, says the GOP victories last November represented a clear repudiation of the performance of President Obama and the Democratic-controlled Congress in managing the economy, reducing our national debt, and controlling spending.

But it doesn’t, she added, represent a clear endorsement of the Republicans, and Dunmire is convinced that the GOP may set expectations too high on what they can accomplish – and ultimate fail.

“I think that the public is very skeptical about whether the Republicans will deliver – and what they will deliver,” Dunmire said. 

Polls so far haven’t been encouraging to the GOP, she noted. A Wall Street Journal poll showed that 24 percent of Americans view the Republican Party positively, compared to a 33 percent who give a positive rating to the Democrats.  Even after Democrats got crushed in the midterm elections, Dunmire said, voters remain skeptical about what the GOP will accomplish.

That skepticism is likely to grow, Dunmire said, since in December’s “lame duck” session, Congress approved a massive spending bill called the Omnibus Appropriations Act.

“They added a trillion dollars to our debt,” Dunmire said, while noting that the Florida Tea Party stands for the exact opposite: no deficit spending and a reduction in the responsibilities of the federal government, with more and more programs turned over to the states.

The 112th Congress recently convened, with U.S. Rep. John Boehner, R-Ohio, taking over as Speaker of the House from liberal Democrat Nancy Pelosi, who now becomes minority leader.  But the U.S. Senate is still controlled by Democrats, and with President Obama in the White House, there’s speculation that Republicans may have to compromise on a lot of their goals, including repealing the health care law and pushing for new spending cuts.

Dunmire said that after such a sweeping victory, the GOP needs to deliver on their pledge to reduce the budget deficit and seriously cut federal spending – or risk alienating the voters who elected them.

“They have to stand for something,” she said.  “It remains to be seen what their attitude will be.  The jury is totally, totally out on them.”

The first big test, she said, will be the vote in the House to kill the national health care reform law passed by Congress in early 2010. The controversial measure, which many political analysts say contributed heavily to the Democrats’ sweeping defeat, nevertheless continues to have strong support from the president, who had pledged to veto any repeal effort.

Dunmire noted that some conservative commentators, like Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly of The O’Reilly Factor, “are saying this is a waste of time because the Democrats control the Senate.  I disagree.  The Republican strategy in the House is to kill Obamacare, and I think it’s very good that the Republicans want to do this.  They need to.  The Republicans have to deliver on this in the House.”

Dunmire ran for Congress last year in Florida’s 8th Congressional District, which includes parts of Orlando and Orange, Lake, Osceola and Marion counties. She and the Democratic incumbent, Alan Grayson, lost to the Republican candidate, former state Sen. Dan Webster.

Dunmire noted that during the election, Republican candidates picked up a lot of support from voters affiliated with the Tea Party movement, which called for a return to a strict interpretation of the U.S. Constitution and limits on the powers of the federal government.

If the GOP can’t control spending and end up returning to the big spending days when they controlled Congress under much of President George W. Bush’s first term, Dunmire said, they could turn off Tea Party voters altogether.

“Are they going to play politics as usual?” she asked.  “This is why we’re not going away. 

Peg Dunmire says the Florida Tea Party is here to stay because Republicans may not follow through on their promises to cut spending and repeal Obamacare.

The Florida Tea Party is here to stay, because we don’t know if the Republicans will deliver.”

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RealtyTrac says U.S. set a foreclosure record in 2010 — but more bad news may be on the way.

FOUR CORNERS – RealtyTrac’s report today that the number of foreclosures in the U.S. hit a record high in 2010 could led some to assume the housing market has probably hit bottom, and it’s a safe assumption that the worst of the foreclosure crisis is behind us.
But that might not, unfortunately, be the case.
Pete Howlett is a Realtor in the Four Corners area, where he runs Orlando Vacation Realty.  He said there’s good reason to believe the foreclosure crisis could get worse this year and in 2012, even though Central Florida and the rest of the country have already been through three years of record-breaking foreclosure statistics.
“The distressed sales will be with us for a while,” Howlett said. 

A sign in South Lake County indicates just how widespread the home foreclosure crisis has been in Four Corners.

A key reason, he said, is that at the height of the real estate boom in 2005, banks were so eager to sign up new lenders that they came up with attractive mortgage deals for people who couldn’t afford skyrocketing home prices.  That included adjustable loans as low as 3 percent, or in some instances interest only loans, where the buyer paid only the interest on the loan, and made no payments toward the principle.
These deals were attractive because they gave the buyer a low monthly payment they could afford.  But those loans were only for a set number of years, and not for 30 year deals like fixed rate loans are.
“If you got a loan in 2005,” Howlett said, “and if they were five to seven year loans, they haven’t hit the adjustment period yet, where they might go from 3 percent to 9 percent this year,” Howlett said.  “Or they were interest only loans, when they started off at interest only rates.  The banks made a lot of these loans that were five to seven year loans that started off at adjustable rates.”
When the higher rates kick in – and it’s a strong bet that a lot of them will be this year and in 2012 – there’s likely to be another fierce round of foreclosure proceedings, Howlett said, as homeowners find they can no longer keep up with their monthly payments at the higher rate.
“Banks are still proceeding with their inventory of distressed properties,” he said.

Four Corners Realtor Pete Howlett says adjustable loans given at the height of the real estate boom in 2004-2005 will exacerbate the home foreclosure crisis this year.

On Thursday, RealtyTrac, the online marketplace for foreclosure properties, released its Year-End  2010 U.S. Foreclosure Market Report.  It showed that a total of 3,825,637  foreclosure filings — including default notices, scheduled auctions and bank repossessions — were reported last year on a record 2,871,891 U.S. properties. That represented an increase of nearly 2 percent from 2009 and a 23 percent jump from 2008.
Florida remains one of the hardest hit states, having experienced a huge building boom between 2003 and 2006 as demand for new homes outstripped supply. One of those areas was in Four Corners, which takes in parts of Lake, Orange, Osceola and Polk counties where U.S. 192 and U.S. 27.  Close to Orlando, the theme parks and Orlando International Airport, this area experienced a rapid buildup of new residential subdivisions, but when the housing bubble burst in 2008, it left behind a rising number of vacant, unsold homes and a painfully high foreclosure rate.
Florida had the nation’s third highest foreclosure rate, with 5.51 percent of its housing  units – or one in 18 – getting at least one foreclosure filing during the year.  RealtyTrac reported that in Florida, one in every 343 housing units received a foreclosure filing in December 2010. Orange County had 1,695 foreclosure filings, one in every 272 homes, while in Osceola County, there were 767 foreclosure filings last month, one in every 158 homes.

In Orange County, foreclosed homes sell on average for less than $113,000.

The high number of foreclosure homes being sold has brought down prices.  In Orange County, the average sales prices for a home is $157,859, RealtyTrac reports – but buyers who look at a foreclosured home will pay an average price of just $112,908. In Osceola County, the average sales price is lower, at $144,732, but the average foreclosed home price is down to just $96,314.
Kevin Jones, manager and loan officer for Professional Mortgage Center in Davenport, agreed that foreclosed homes remain a large part of the Four Corners housing inventory.
“I do see a lot of foreclosures and I do see a lot of short sales,” Jones said.  Short sales are when the owner of a home has fallen behind on their monthly mortgage payments, and, facing the possibility of a foreclosure, try to sell their home for less than what they owe on it.  The seller’s hope is that the bank will write off the remaining debt on the mortgage rather than repossess the home.
“We get a lot of sales from both of those,” Jones said.  “And I see a lot of people buying these properties, especially short sales.”
Foreclosed home are in many ways less attractive, he added. Sellers of short sales tend to keep the property well maintained in order to attract buyers, but in too many cases where a home has been abandoned and repossessed by the bank, the previous owners trashed it before leaving.
“The problem is when people leave their house, they leave them in disrepair,” Jones said.  “That’s the problem that we get from foreclosures. People steal things from the house and take appliances, and it can be a real mess.  then nobody wants to buy it.”
That brings the prices down to levels that traditional sellers can’t compete with, he said.  Jones also agreed with Howlett that many adjustable loans made during the peak of the market haven’t all switched yet to the higher rates — but many will this year.
“There were a lot of three to five year loans made when everyone was buying things in 2004, 2005, and they’re all coming due around this time,” Jones said.  “People wanted to pay them, but couldn’t, so they just left. They were at 2 or 3 percent, and then the loan shot up to 9 percent, and those are all coming due.”
Another reason the situation may get worse, Howlett said, is that some banks may have held back on putting all their distressed properties on the market at once.
“I’ve heard they did kind of hold off on selling all their distressed properties so there isn’t a total collapse,” Howlett said.  “It probably would have been worse if they had been dumping them all at the same time.”
But it also means banks may have more foreclosed properties to put on the market at deeply discounted prices, further bringing down all home prices, he said.
Howlett said he’s also heard some banks are considering requiring buyers to begin putting down 30 percent before they can secure a mortgage – a plan that would help the banks, he said, but could be devastating for the housing market.
“If you required 30 percent down, the number of buyers who could qualify would be abysmal,” he said. 

It could become harder to get a mortgage if banks start requiring buyers to put a minimum of 30 percent down.

But there is some good news in the RealtyTrac report, which showed that foreclosure filings were reported on 257,747 U.S. properties in December, which marked a 2 percent decrease from November and a 26 percent drop from  December 2009.  It was, the report indicated, “the biggest annual drop in foreclosure activity since RealtyTrac began publishing its foreclosure report in January 2005, and giving December the lowest monthly total since June 2008.”
Likewise, default notices in December were down 4 percent from November and down 35 percent from December 2009, while scheduled foreclosure auctions decreased 3 percent from the previous month and were down 20 percent from December 2009.
Howlett said it’s also encouraging that prices in Four Corners have started to stabilize, even as inventory remains fairly high.
“Obviously, supply and demand will impact prices,” Howlett said. “But I’ve seen a leveling off on sales prices and that suggest the banks are sitting on these properties rather than making this situation worse.”

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Maintaining your property should be one less thing you need to worry about and with Orlando property management this can be possible! Orlando Property Management

City leaders remember the devastating earthquake in Haiti one year later.

ORLANDO – For Marjory Sheba, the images were so strong and horrific, so quick to scar the psyche, that she recalled them through words of poetry.

“Three-hundred and sixty-five days and counting,” Sheba said.  “Our people are suffering.  They’ve suffered before, but now their hearts are tearing.”

Wednesday marked the one year anniversary of the devastating earthquake that caused so much damage, destruction and death in the nation of Haiti. It was a catastrophic magnitude 7.0 earthquake, with an epicentre near the town of Leogane, about 16 miles west of Haiti’s capital, Port-au-Price.  It happened on Tuesday, Jan. 12, 2010, and by Jan. 24, at least 52 aftershocks measuring 4.5 or greater had been recorded. It’s been estimated that three million people were impacted by the quake, with up to 234,000 killed.

“The Earth shook and swallowed us in,” said Sheba, a resident of Haiti who su

People attending the "Remembering Haiti ... The Earthquake" one year commemoration brought along donation goods for the victims.

rvived the devastation, and was in Orlando on Wednesday to take part in a ceremony marking the one year anniversary date.

“Massacred our loved ones and families,” she said.  “Help did come from distant shores. Ninety days – billions raised.  But we died in massive numbers, still.”

Sheba was one of several speakers who took part in “Remembering Haiti … The Earthquake,” a commemoration ceremony sponsored by Orlando City Commissioner Samuel B. Ings, and held in the main rotunda of Orlando City Hall.  It was an event that featured Haiti food, music, dancing, and an continued effort to collect donations for the people of Haiti, with a list of recommended items that included toiletries, new and gently used clothing, school supplies, sporting goods, and more.

Dominique Mathurin sings the Star Spangled Banner while Monica May, host of the "Remembering Haiti ... The Earthquake" ceremony looks on at Orlando City Hall.

But it was also a time to solumnly mark the terrible loss of life in that nation, and the challenges that face ongoing relief efforts for the victims of the quake.

“This time last year at approximately 4:15 p.m., the first foundations were torn across borders in Haiti,” said Monica May, the host of the Tom Joyner Morning Show and news/community affairs director at STAR 94.5 COX Radio station in Orlando.  “A sound like none we have ever heard was heard at this time in Haiti.  We are here tonight to remember Haiti, to remember the lives that were lost, to remember the families that were lost.”

U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown, D-Jacksonville, whose district includes parts of Orlando, said she got a congressional briefing last week about the situation in Haiti, and it continues to frustrate members of Congress that “billions of dollars was allocated to the people of Haiti, and they’re still waiting.”

Brown blamed that on the disputed Nov. 28 Haitian presidential election.  The results have been held up due to allegations of fraud, and there have been calls for a new election to be held.

“It’s an example of when the government doesn’t work, the people suffer,” Brown said.  “There’s still over a million people in tents – in tents, still.  Not acceptable.”

Sheba described her people as being “sick from the corruption clutching our airs,” and said it was deplorable that a year later, they’re still waiting for so much of that help to arrive.

“The reason why we’re waiting still – just inexcuable,” she said.  “We cry out for justice.” 

Judeson Jean Juste, a survivor the earthquake in Haiti, sings the Haitian National Anthem at Orlando City Hall.

But there was also a sense of hope at the event, a feeling that people could be inspired to join in the relief effort, and come together as an extended family.

“We thank our family – those of you who are in the seats here with us,” May said, while Brown added, “Hopefully this is going to be a new beginning.”

Ings noted that the ceremony was “a cultural event that celebrates the Haitian culture while bringing awareness of the continued needs of the people of Haiti.”

And while he thanked those who made donations, and those who showed up to demonstrate their support for the people of Haiti, he also urged the guests at City Hall to enjoy the music, entertainment, and especially the food that was being provided there.

“The reception line is open,” Ings said, shortly before the speaking program started.  “So you’re welcome to all the food here.”

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