West Palm Beach The boosterish headline in the West Palm Beach paper was curious and somewhat contradictory. They were trumpeting the fact that the “values” of houses were “bargains” and should be swiftly picked up because the comparable available prices in this normally high flying market had not existed for 15 years or more. Not many writers can spin a full-on recession front page story and a graph that must be gut wrenching to many homeowners and foreclosure resisters into something that pretends to be good news all around. The real estate market and homeownership in Florida may be in the dumps, but hucksterism is still alive and well, so Florida has a future.
More sobering were some notes I exchanged with a good friend in the Tampa/St. Petersburg area, who has been following the housing market up there in one the nation’s top foreclosure hotspots with a close eye, while I was passing through the state over the last several days. In detailing the disaster she was seeing in her area, she made the following points, including a telling description of her area as “Detroit with palm trees,” which says it all in my book. Here are some of her points from the front line observation post:
….the shadow inventory of foreclosed homes in Florida is being snapped up at an alarming rate by cash buyers (investor flippers) so the whole cycle appears to be poised to start again. The City of St. Pete renovated a buncha single family homes in distressed neighborhoods with the NSP funding — guess what; there are no buyers in those neighborhoods who can qualify with lenders right now; and the state program (SHIP) which used to provide down payment assistance is all over also.
….Pinellas County has a twenty percent vacancy rate for single family homes. We are Detroit with palm trees. Meanwhile the homelessness population has jumped astronomically, particularly homeless families who could live in those homes.
….We have a mobile home park down Fort Myers way right now that houses every farmworker within like a 200 mile radius that is in the process of being shut down. The greater community is just starting to figure out they won't have anybody to pick the crops. No dinner, oops!
…once the "Hardest Hit" funding is used up that appears to be the end of the federal government's contribution to foreclosure prevention. The "new" philosophy being espoused by the industry (and I think the government, too); is let the foreclosures all happen; and then we can begin to come up with a system for valuation of real estate again.
When it comes to housing, housing policy, foreclosures, bank supervision, foreclosure prevention, foreclosure modifications, there is simply nothing going on anywhere. What I watched close at hand in the Phoenix area over the last year is happening the same way in Florida.
It is not just a matter of “who is on first, what is on second,” but more disturbingly, no one in the federal or state government seems to even been suiting up to play in the game. President Obama may think Arizona is a lost cause, but Florida is still one that he needs.
Standing under a palm tree with the beach at his back, when the President and his yes men and women look out and see the For Sale signs, abandoned houses, and soaring numbers of homeless squatting in what used to be their own homes, and he realizes he’s in Detroit, as my friend notes, it may be too late for find his way back in good graces.