Housing Market Crashes and Burns


Why did the bank thief in Homestead, Florida think he could get away with using a stolen backhoe "to lift and haul away a drive-through ATM from a Bank of America early Tuesday"?

Because that’s pretty much how it works in Homestead, where political cronies run a once-rural now sprawl ridden community like their own ATM.

Homestead abuts two national parks that define the Everglades. The transformation of Homestead, in defiance of economic opportunites that might have been embraced by a gateway community to national parks, happened at a blazing pace during the building boom.

Its political and economic elite did not only look away from the environment, it demonized civic activists and those who disagreed with the primacy of bulldozers, graders, and drag lines.

For decades, Homestead businessmen enviously watched their neighbors to the north cash in on the opportunities of sunshine, tourism, and warm winter beaches, chafing for their moment to cash in.

Most Florida communities have been throwing up road blocks to Walmarts, in a desperate effort to preserve character of place. But in Homestead-the last vestige of Florida’s agricultural past in southeast Florida and in the state’s largest county-it’s all for sale, all the time.

With the bulging tourism economy of the Keys to the south, Homestead potato and tomato farmers and bankers (whose loans to land owners were tied to the speculative value of farmland) felt like fishermen at a weir in the stream, just waiting for population growth to push enough people down the Florida Turnpike to tip the scales from the quiet sleepy life to strip malls, multiplexes, auto dealerships, speedways, trains, road widening, highway interchanges, and airports.

In the mid-1990’s, after a devastating hurricane, with open arms the Homestead cronies intended to welcome the privatization of a military base (Homestead AFB) but got all tangled up in violations of the law and environmental barriers.

This is one of the more interesting phenomenon, that manifested in places like Homestead and other special places in America bordered by fragile natural resources.

Today, the landscapes that needed to be protected were vacuumed up by an industry that leaves a footprint as permanent as concrete building pads.

Now that production home builders are slashing prices by as much as 50 percent just to push back against the worst entropy in housing markets in recent history, a question arises: throughout the housing boom, environmentalists and civic activists were challenged to be even half right about their claims to protection of law, clean air, water, fisheries and protections for public space.

The environment and the economy was painted to be just such a balance: fifty / fifty, half and half.

So now that publicly traded production homebuilders, many of whom were active in Homestead and Miami, are trading down to book value, and may have to fall 50 percent more just to settle at the point they were in the housing recession of the early 1990’s, it turns out that civic activists were 100 percent right: that tract housing planted in farmland, far from places of work, is not just an eyesore, doesn’t just threaten water to aquifers and the bay, it’s not even close to being economic.

So why aren’t all those Homestead political cronies who trashed the public interest instead of giving it a fair hearing when it might have mattered in places held to at least as high a standard as the ATM thief will be held when he is caught?

This is more than a point dredged from memories of an aggrieved past.

Today, Congress is entertaining recommendations to reform the financial practices that lead to the problem in the first place-but so far as the press has reported, Congress is heading off in the wrong direction.

The problem is not lending practices or more careful regulation of mortgage backed securities that now lack adequate review by once-trusted rating agencies like Standard and Poor’s and Moody’s.

The problem is on the ground in places like Homestead (Agrestic, anyone?) and other sprawl ridden communities in America. That is where Congress needs to look: how to stop tract housing that has proven to be economic only when fraud, deception, and trashing of the public interest outweigh legitimate cost factors, including for instance the value of national parks, of clean and reliable supplies of drinking water–all of which belong in the costing models but are left out, in perverse irony to the phantom derivatives multiplied by Wall Street ten or twenty times the value of mortgages on the ground that turn out to be, well, not worthy very much.

Today, the bankers and developers who were all over Homestead farmland like vultures on a dead python for zoning and building permits (and contributed their share of liar loan mortgages that triggered a world credit crisis) are in hiding.

(Practically speaking, what that means is that they are on the phone with their Senators and Congressmen and the Bush White House, appealing for a bail-out by federal agencies or the government sponsored entities like Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Just you watch!)

The Latin Builders Association-atrophied and less muscular these days-has to double down at the time (and for the upcoming 2008 presidential election): political candidates need campaign contributions even though there is no market, or next to none, for suburban sprawl.

Today, the demographics of Homestead have changed. Hispanics could tilt the vote in a new direction in upcoming municipal elections. These voters didn’t profit from the building boom so much as get dragged under the bus by its false promises.

Homestead and Florida City turned into exactly what so many residents and voters didn’t want: a traffic snarled, sprawling mess, with a NASCAR racetrack, a Walmart and enough ATM’s not to miss a stolen one.

ALAN FARAGO of Coral Gables, who writes about the environment and the politics of South Florida, can be reached at alanfarago@yahoo.com.

Weekend Edition
October 9-11, 2015
David Price – Roberto J. González
The Use and Abuse of Culture (and Children): The Human Terrain System’s Rationalization of Pedophilia in Afghanistan
Mike Whitney
Putin’s “Endgame” in Syria
Jason Hribal
The Tilikum Effect and the Downfall of SeaWorld
Gary Leupp
The Six Most Disastrous Interventions of the 21st Century
Andrew Levine
In Syria, Obama is Playing a Losing Game
Louis Proyect
The End of Academic Freedom in America: the Case of Steven Salaita
Rob Urie
Democrats, Neoliberalism and the TPP
Ismael Hossein-Zadeh
The Bully Recalibrates: U.S. Signals Policy Shift in Syria
Brian Cloughley
Hospital Slaughter and the US/NATO Propaganda Machine
Paul Street
Hope in Abandonment: Cuba, Detroit, and Earth-Scientific Socialism
John Walsh
For Vietnam: Artemisinin From China, Agent Orange From America
John Wight
No Moral High Ground for the West on Syria
Robert Fantina
Canadian Universities vs. Israeli Apartheid
Conn Hallinan
Portugal: Europe’s Left Batting 1000
John Feffer
Mouths Wide Shut: Obama’s War on Whistleblowers
Paul Craig Roberts
The Impulsiveness of US Power
Ron Jacobs
The Murderer as American Hero
Alex Nunns
“A Movement Looking for a Home”: the Meaning of Jeremy Corbyn
Philippe Marlière
Class Struggle at Air France
Binoy Kampmark
Waiting in Vain for Moderation: Syria, Russia and Washington’s Problem
Paul Edwards
Empire of Disaster
Xanthe Hall
Nuclear Madness: NATO’s WMD ‘Sharing’ Must End
Margaret Knapke
These Salvadoran Women Went to Prison for Suffering Miscarriages
Uri Avnery
Abbas: the Leader Without Glory
Halima Hatimy
#BlackLivesMatter: Black Liberation or Black Liberal Distraction?
Michael Brenner
Kissinger Revisited
Cesar Chelala
The Perverse Rise of Killer Robots
Halyna Mokrushyna
On Ukraine’s ‘Incorrect’ Past
Jason Cone
Even Wars Have Rules: a Fact Sheet on the Bombing of Kunduz Hospital
Walter Brasch
Mass Murders are Good for Business
William Hadfield
Sophistry Rising: the Refugee Debate in Germany
Christopher Brauchli
Why the NRA Profits From Mass Shootings
Hadi Kobaysi
How The US Uses (Takfiri) Extremists
Pete Dolack
There is Still Time to Defeat the Trans-Pacific Partnership
Marc Norton
The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution
Andre Vltchek
Stop Millions of Western Immigrants!
David Rosen
If Donald Dump Was President
Dave Lindorff
America’s Latest War Crime
Ann Garrison
Sankarist Spirit Resurges in Burkina Faso
Franklin Lamb
Official Investigation Needed After Afghan Hospital Bombing
Linn Washington Jr.
Wrongs In Wine-Land
Ronald Bleier
Am I Drinking Enough Water? Sneezing’s A Clue
Charles R. Larson
Prelude to the Spanish Civil War: Eduard Mendoza’s “An Englishman in Madrid”
David Yearsley
Papal Pop and Circumstance
Christopher Washburn
Skeptik’s Lexicon