Real estate bust bit state in 2008
Published: Thursday, January 1, 2009 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, January 1, 2009 at 12:31 a.m.
MIAMI — Empty condominiums, stalled construction projects and thousands of families forced to leave their homes in a state hit hard by the housing bust was the top story of 2008, according to Florida newspaper editors.
Some aspect of the crisis topped headlines daily, especially in South Florida where the once-booming condo market bottomed out largely because of overbuilding and speculation. The values of homes, businesses and other properties across Florida declined $153 billion during the last year, according to state officials.
The ripple effect was felt in communities statewide as once busy construction workers and developers now found themselves out of work. Families, some angered at being foreclosed on, tore up plumbing and pipes or trashed the homes before they left.
Even renters took a hit, learning their landlords were being foreclosed on, even though they had faithfully paid their rents.
Crisis hot lines were flooded with desperate homeowners seeking counseling, looking for mortgage assistance or help from food banks.
Foreclosures also spawned some unexpected stories — creating empty subdivisions and spurring the mosquito population which found happy homes in neglected, grimy pools. A Miami homeless advocacy group took advantage of the multitude of foreclosed homes, moving people in as squatters.
Officials launched a foreclosure-prevention program to help homeowners who have fallen behind on their mortgage, with loans of up to $7,500 per household. Experts predict little change for the state’s troubled housing market in 2009.
State newspaper editors said Barack Obama’s victory in battleground Florida was the No. 2 story of 2008. The Democrat’s win avenged the 2000 presidential recount and turned the tide for a state in which Republicans carried two straight presidential elections.
Florida’s predominantly black communities that suffered for years with poverty, unemployment and racial tension came to life the day after Obama’s historic victory. Tents cropped up selling T-shirts reading “Mission Possible” with Obama’s name in glitter and his face in silver studs. A Florida Panhandle barber even etched an image of the president-elect’s face on the back of a friend’s head.
More financial woes dominated the third and fourth stories of the year — the state budget crisis and rising unemployment rates.
Crashing revenue caused the state to incur a current year deficit of $2.3 billion and a “budget gap” of about $4 billion, maybe more, for the next fiscal year. Agencies have been asked to suggest ways to absorb a 10 percent cut and lawmakers are planning a special session next month to tackle the deficit.
In other bleak news, Florida’s unemployment rate rose to 7.3 percent in November, its highest level in 15 years. That means 680,000 people were jobless in Florida.
In what could be the state’s most expensive conservation land deal, the billion-dollar bid to buy land from U.S. Sugar for Everglades restoration was next on the list at No. 5.
The South Florida Water Management District recently approved a plan for U.S. Sugar Corp. to turn over about 285 square miles of land. The ambitious Everglades restoration plan will cost the state $1.34 billion. Local officials expressed concern about the cost of the deal when the state was in the midst of an economic crisis.
Environmentalists have fought for years to restore natural water flow to the Everglades after decades of overdevelopment and farming.
The Tampa Bay Rays came in at No. 6 after making headlines when they dropped “Devil” from their name and wound up winning the American League pennant, dramatically ending a decade of futility. They won a franchise-best 97 games, but lost the World Series to the Philadelphia Phillies in a five-game series.
Florida’s No. 7 story created a national media frenzy when little Caylee Anthony disappeared from central Florida in June, even though her mother did not report the toddler missing until July. In a story filled with twists and turns, including a massive search and bounty hunters, the 3-year-old’s remains were found recently in the woods near her grandparents home. Her mother, Casey Anthony, was charged with her murder two months ago.
Some good news on the hurricane front. Although Tropical Storm Fay drenched Florida in August, the state dodged a direct hit from a hurricane for a third-straight year. That story was No. 8.
Next were two state judges who overturned the state’s gay adoption ban in separate cases, setting up an appeal to the Florida Supreme Court. A Miami-Dade County judge said the 31-year-old law violates equal protection rights for the children and their prospective gay parents, rejecting the state’s arguments that there is “a supposed dark cloud hovering over homes of homosexuals and their children.” Florida is the only state with an outright ban on gay adoption.
It was a tie for the No. 10 slot between early voting and Democratic U.S. Rep. Tim Mahoney’s scandal.
Florida again made national headlines during the election as residents stood in lines that snaked around buildings for several hours during early voting. More than 2.6 million of Florida’s 11.2 million registered voters cast their ballots in the early period between Oct. 20 and Nov. 2.
Mahoney lost his re-election bid after revealing he’s had several affairs. The district’s seat has been a magnet for scandal. Mark Foley held the position before Mahoney, but resigned from Congress in 2006 after his sexually explicit computer messages to male teens became public.
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