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Troubled housing

(AP) -- Federal investigators are examining contracts awarded by the troubled San Francisco Housing Authority.

The U.S. Housing and Urban Development inspector general's office contacted the agency earlier this year seeking all contracts and bidding details during the past five years.

The San Francisco Chronicle said HUD investigators demanded the documents after the newspaper allegations that city housing director Henry Alvarez illegally steered contracts to political allies.

Housing Authority spokeswoman Rose Dennis is downplaying the inquiry, saying it's not unusual for HUD investigators to contact the agency.

Golden Gate tree chop

(AP) -- Nearly 150 aging, dead or diseased Monterey pine, cypress and eucalyptus trees in San Francisco's Golden Gate Park are being taken down in the next few months.

Park officials told the San Francisco Chronicle the trees are a danger to the 13 million people who visit the 1,017-acre park each year. The trees are 80 to 100 years old.

A woman was killed in 2008 when a branch fell on her car, crushing her as she loaded her dog into her Subaru.

Three people were hurt when a branch fell on them last year.

Park officials say falling trees or branches have damaged 61 cars since 2008.

Some 3,000 park trees have been examined since 2011 and nearly 360 were deemed unsafe. More than 200 have already come down.

Moscow malling

(Bloomberg) -- Morgan Stanley bought a Moscow shopping mall in the largest acquisition of ever a Russian retail property, according to the New York-based bank.

A fund managed by Morgan Stanley (NYSE: MS) acquired Metropolis Shopping and Entertainment Mall from Capital Partners, the Kazakh developer that opened the property in 2009, the bank said Friday.

Morgan Stanley paid about $1.2 billion for the mall, two people familiar with the transaction said.

They asked not to be identified because the terms haven't been made public.

The deal follows Morgan Stanley Real Estate Fund VII's $1.1 billion purchase of the Galeria mall in St. Petersburg last year.

That transaction contributed to an annual 4 percent increase in Russian commercial real estate sales during the first nine months of last year, according to data compiled by Real Capital Analytics Inc.

The Metropolis mall in northwest Moscow, near the main highway to the city's airport, has 82,000 square meters of retail space and 2,900 parking spaces.

The shopping center attracted about 55,000 visitors a day last year, Morgan Stanley said.

Capital Partners was advised by Jones Lang LaSalle Inc. (NYSE: JLL).

Final town open

(AP) -- New Jersey has reached another milestone in its recovery from Sandy.

The borough of Mantoloking is allowing residents to move back in Friday.

It's the last storm-ravaged shore town to do so -- 116 days after the superstorm struck.

It's not a mad rush. The winter population of the barrier island community totals only about 100 and many homes are not yet livable.

And some people have no home to come back to. Sixty or so houses disappeared completely and hundreds more were so badly damaged they'll probably need to be demolished.

Officials say all of the more the 500 houses in the wealthy community received some damage.

RI relief

(AP) -- Rhode Island Attorney General Peter F. Kilmartin said a landmark $25 billion settlement with the nation's top mortgage lenders provided $131 million in financial relief last year to 1,832 Rhode Island homeowners.

Kilmartin said his office will continue to monitor the practices of the mortgage service providers to ensure they comply with the settlement.

The information about the assistance from the lenders was provided by a monitor of the settlement.

Maine resales

Maine (AP) – The Maine Association of Realtors say sales of single-family homes in Maine have increased by 21 percent between January 2012 and the same month this year.

Statistics released by a statewide multiple listing service (MLS) show 664 homes changed hands last month, compared to 547 in January 2012.

The median sales price for those homes reached $162,000, a rise of 3 percent from a year earlier. The median indicates that half of the homes were sold for more and half sold for less.

President Bart Stevens said Maine is shifting from a strong buyer's market to a more balanced market.

Sex plea late

(AP) -- A former hospital executive sentenced to nine years in prison in a public corruption investigation in Cleveland has lost his bid for a shorter sentence based on his claim that he was a globe-trotting, out-of-control sex addict.

U.S. District Court Judge Sara Lioi ruled Thursday that John Carroll, 66, never mentioned a sex addiction until after he pleaded guilty and was sentenced.

Carroll, a former vice president of Cleveland's MetroHealth Medical Center, pleaded guilty to bribery, making false statements and tax fraud.

He was charged with accepting nearly $700,000 worth of rugs, jewelry, a Jacuzzi and trips to India and Japan in exchange for steering $51 million in construction contracts.

According to The Plain Dealer, Carroll said the sex addiction caused him diminished capacity when he pleaded guilty.

Carroll told the judge that he and a contractor co-defendant “were totally out of control in our drive for sex.”

Canadian starts

(Bloomberg) -- Canadian housing starts will slow to an annual pace of 190,300 units this year, from 214,827 last year, a drop of 11 percent, the federal housing agency said.

The annual pace of work will range between 178,600 to 202,000 units in 2013, Canada Mortgage & Housing Corp. said Fridiay.

Construction will pick up next year, with starts reaching about 194,100 units on an annual basis, CMHC said.

Prices of existing homes will rise 1 percent this year to a national average of C$367,500 ($358,571), the agency said. Prices will climb 2.7 percent next year to C$377,300.

Resales of existing homes will drop to 451,100 units this year, before rising to 472,300 units in 2014, CMHC said.

The pace of housing starts fell to the slowest since 2009 in January, CMHC reported Feb. 8.

Australian prices

(Bloomberg) -- Price expectations of home sellers are climbing across Australia as confidence of a recovery in the real estate market grows, according to SQM Research Pty.

Asking prices rose 0.4 percent for apartments and 1.5 percent for houses in the 90 days to Feb. 19 across the nation's eight major cities, the Sydney-based researcher said in its first weekly asking prices index. They’re 2.3 percent higher for houses than a year earlier and 1.6 percent for apartments, it said.

Reductions in the Reserve Bank of Australia's benchmark interest rate to 3 percent, a level matching a half-century low, have helped boost home prices across Australia.

Prices in the five biggest cities climbed 1.1 percent Thursday from a year earlier, the RP Data-Rismark Daily Home Value Index showed.

New solar farm

(AP) -- Nicaragua has inaugurated a solar farm that the government said will benefit 1,100 homes.

The state-owned National Company of Electricity Transmission, or Enatrel, said that the array includes 5,880 solar panels.

It said that Japan donated $11.4 million to build the solar farm and that Nicaragua invested $530,000.

Enatrel said Thursday that the farm will generate enough energy to supply 1,100 homes that consume an average of 150 kilowatt hour a month.

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