Note: According to the Brookings Institution, San Antonio, Texas is the only metro area in the U.S. where median income has risen since 2007.

I am fascinated with a little town called Fate, Texas, about 30 miles east of Dallas. Couple reasons why. I think I wrote a story about Fate during the boom about it’s booming population. As of 2011, Fate’s population is 1,476 people. Since 2000, it has had a population growth of 196.98 percent. One reason why may be the cost of homes: median home cost in Fate is $134,500. Still, home appreciation last year has been down negative 2.03 percent. Compared to the rest of the country, Fate’s cost of living is 5.20% lower than the U.S. average. I have heard good things about the Fate public schools. Fate public schools spend $3,948 per student. The average school expenditure in the U.S. is $5,678. There are about 15.8 students per teacher in Fate. The unemployment rate in Fate is 7.80 percent(U.S. avg. is 9.10%). 

But, Steve Brown reported that the foreclosure rate is rather high in Fate. And then this very interesting piece by Peter Goodman in The Huffington Post got me thinking about suburbs and their growing problems and poverty. Peter’s piece is comprehensive and well-researched. Basically, he reports on a Brookings Institution study that tells us the number of poor and unemployed is growing in the suburbs, where there are fewer services to help them. And this suburban poverty started budding before the real estate boom/bust.

“Though cities still have nearly double the rate of poverty as suburban areas, the number of people living in poverty in the suburbs of major metropolitan areas increased by 53 percent between 2000 and 2010, as compared to an increase of 23 percent among city-dwellers, according to a Brookings Institution analysis of recently released census data. In 16 metropolitan areas, including Atlanta, Dallas and Milwaukee, the suburban poor has more than doubled over the last decade.

The swift growth of suburban poverty is reshaping the sociological landscape, while leaving millions of struggling households without the support that might ameliorate their plight: Compared to cities, suburban communities lack facilities and programs to help the poor, owing to a lag in awareness that large numbers of indigent people are in their midst. Some communities are wary of providing services out of fear they will make themselves magnets for the poor.”

The Brookings Institution study shows median household income change in the top 100 metro areas since 2007. In Dallas/Fort Worth, the median income has dipped by -5.4%. In Austin, it has dipped by 6.6%, but note that little old San Antonio, Texas is the only metro area in the country where median income has actually risen: up 3.1%. Reasons for this may be that San Antonio had a lower median income to begin with, has seen job growth and corporate relocations as well as an influx of wealthy Mexican escaping crime in Mexico.

As Goodman pointed out, people usually move to the suburbs for better schools and home values. Suburbs can be a great place to raise children. How sad that some of these people experience a change in fortune that leaves them worse off in the very place they thought would be nirvana.

Here’s the good news: Foreclosures are declining in North Texas. Steve Brown (sub. required) reports today that lenders foreclosed on more than 7,800 D-FW homes during the first half of 2011, using figures from the folks in the know, Addison-based Foreclosure Listing Service. Looking over the past three years of hell we have experienced, that’s more than a 10 percent drop in foreclosures from the first half of 2010 and even better, a 25 percent drop from the same period in 2008, says Steve: And here are the words that make my day:

 “It was the lowest total for the first six months in more than four years.”

Then D’Ann Petersen, a business economist over at the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas, said “The housing market is still wobbly, but it does appear to have reached a bottom.”

Those of us who live “in the bubble” always wonder where are these foreclosures concentrated? The answer is the far-out suburban areas. Foreclosure rates are highest in  Collin County suburb cities like Celina, Anna, Princeton, Lavon and Little Elm in Denton County. Rates are also higher in the south side suburbs of Lancaster, Glenn Heights and Forest Hill southeast of Fort Worth, plus Blue Mound and, ironically, Fate in Rockwall County.

I recall writing a story about how great life was in Fate not that long ago. But a recent story in The Huffington Post reports that suburbs are catching up to the major cities when it comes to poverty. Though cities still have nearly double the rate of poverty as suburban areas, the number of people living in poverty in the suburbs of major metropolitan areas increased by 53 percent between 2000 and 2010, as compared to an increase of 23 percent among city-dwellers, according to a Brookings Institution analysis of recently released census data. In 16 metropolitan areas, including Atlanta, Dallas and Milwaukee, the suburban poor has more than doubled over the last decade.

Steve Brown reports that, in the first part of 2011, the loans that ended up in foreclosure averaged 6 years old on homes valued at about $122,581. The average tax assessment value was $141,199 for the properties sold at foreclosure auction. The houses were about 1900 square feet in size. All this jives with what I said last show on KXAS-Nonstop Nightly: most of the homes in foreclosure are at $200,000 and under.

Could the worst be behind us? We know some lenders have delayed home foreclosures this year, so it may not be Miller Time just yet. Some experts predict that foreclosure volumes could rise later this year and into 2012.

But the guru of real estate in Texas, that being my hero Dr. James Gaines, an economist with the Real Estate Center at Texas A&M University, does think the worst may be behind us. Still, Jim Saccacio, president of the nationwide foreclosure tracking firm RealtyTrac, doesn’t think Texans are out of the woods YET. Thank God we live in Texas. Experts here think the impact of foreclosures here will be far less severe than elsewhere. In affluent neighborhoods, home sales and prices are stabilizing and I know of at least one home that appraised for more than asking price! At least three homes written about on this blog are under contract or have sold. The only truly slow go area I know of in Dallas is the Turtle Creek condos. I’m chasing a rumor that a man from China bought an entire floor at the new Museum Tower.

Let’s face it: Realtors fly a school district’s accolades like a flag because good schools drive buyers to neighborhoods. I don’t talk about schools enough here on CandysDirt, partly because there is so much real estate news to cover. And truth be told, my kids, both products of private schools, are grown. I am admittedly biased. But that’s short-sighted, as a reader recently (and rightfully) admonished. For twenty years real estate agents have steered buyers to Park Cities, Plano, Frisco and Southlake because of poor schools in Dallas. Couple weeks ago in Benbrook, the developers and builders were bragging about the Aledo School District as if it were Harvard. This editorial by  Diane Ravitch (pictured above left), author of The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education, Research Professor of Education at New York University, an educational historian and a nonresident senior fellow at the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C., was in Sunday’s Dallas Morning News (subscription required). She offers Dallas advice in hiring a new superintendent: find someone who first and foremost knows how to TEACH!

“Don’t recruit a corporate leader who knows nothing about teaching and learning. Find a man or woman who knows how children learn, who knows how to encourage teachers and principals, who knows how to reach out to all parts of the community and bring them together to support Dallas’ children. Above all, look for someone who has a compelling vision of what a great education is and the energy to make it happen for all the children.”

Her words are such jewels, I’m tempted to cut and paste. Her point: current national school reform was born in Texas, and likely hatched here in Dallas. The nation is obsessed with results-oriented education — testing testing testing and merit pay, firing the teachers whose students are not getting higher scores. As a parent who flogged myself whenever my child didn’t get a straight A, I understand this. We simply want to put our children in the best possible place so they can get into the best possible college and lead the best possible life.

Test scores! Bah! I am someone who has never tested well, unlike my husband, who is a much more linear thinker. I am a creative soul whose neurons jump ahead of and all over the line; I over analyze answers. So what Ms. Ravitch wrote really hit home to me, and is worth putting on your listening ears to hear:

“During the presidential campaign of 2000, the nation learned about “the Texas miracle.” The achievement gap would close, we were told, by testing and accountability. Test every student every year, and post the results. Public exposure would encourage successful schools and humiliate the low performers into improving. Throw merit pay into the mix to push even bigger gains.

About the same time, the research department at the Dallas Independent School District discovered that children who had three great teachers in a row would see dramatic test-score gains. This is now the battle cry of the national school reform movement, which says schools will get better if we test more, award merit pay for higher scores and fire teachers whose students don’t get higher scores.”

Dallas, says Diane, knew this knew this 20 years ago yet still struggles with “a daunting achievement gap and low (but rising) graduation rates” . I say it like this: 25 years ago I was not impressed enough with the Dallas public schools to send my children to them, and I am still not impressed.

“We now know there was no “Texas miracle,” and yet No Child Left Behind is still the law of the land. Across the nation, schools are being closed and educators fired because they couldn’t meet the law’s utopian goals. Neither Dallas nor any other school district has figured out how to deliver on that claim about “three great teachers in a row.” It turns out to be a wishful slogan, not a policy proposal. And merit pay, wherever it has been tried, has failed.”

Diane says that in order for Dallas schools to improve, social conditions must improve: and that is a hard hand to be dealt. If Dallas wants to see success for its children, it must improve both schools and social conditions. “Eighty-five percent of DISD students live in poverty,” she says; these youngsters need access to nutrition and medical care. Pregnant woman, she says,  should receive good prenatal care lest they deliver malnourished, low-birth-weight babies, at risk of learning disabilities. Do not even get me (wife of obstetrician who believes parents ought to be licensed) started on this! Nutrition and vitamins and zero exposure to smoking and alcohol are vital during pregnancy to give that child the very best brain!

She advises DISD to hire teachers who are well-educated and can work with ESL children and children with disabilities.

Teachers should engage in continuing education, utilizing our city’s vast cultural resources such as the Dallas Institute of Culture and the Humanities, the Dallas Symphony Orchestra and soon the Perot Museum of Nature and Science. And then, surprise surprise, it takes a vilage but most vitally, it takes parents:

“But that is not enough. The achievement gap begins long before children enter school. Schools and community groups must collaborate to provide excellent early-childhood education for every child, not just daycare. When children regularly engage in healthy play and interact with educated adults, their vocabulary and their social skills increase. Parent education is important, too, so that parents learn how they can provide positive support for their child’s development.”