That's Jed Kolko's take.
Kolko, a housing economist and co-author (with Edward Glaeser) of the uber-influential study "Consumer City," is now chief economist at Trulia, a real estate insights website. Kolko posits that the state of Florida is the perfect microcosm of the nation's ongoing housing problems, and that the GOP primary is bringing the issue into the political limelight – a place it is likely to occupy in the general election as well. (For a range of views on how to "fix" the housing problem, see this edition of The New York Times' Room for Debate).
Kolko's argument hinges on a couple of key points. First, Florida was more or less "ground zero" for America's housing crisis: at the worst of it, average home prices declined there 40 percent or more off their peak. Second, the state is overrun by foreclosures: it currently has the highest rate of foreclosed loans (14 percent) in the country. That's double that of Nevada (6.3 percent) and four times higher than Arizona, California, and Michigan. That said, people are starting to buy houses in Florida again. He cites Trulia's Metro Movers Index, which shows increased house-hunting activity in North Port-Bradenton-Sarasota, Fort Lauderdale, Cape Coral, and West Palm Beach. Additionally, prices have increased more than 2 percent in the third quarter of 2011 in West Palm Beach, Fort Lauderdale and several other Florida metros.
Florida's housing market isn't only a Florida housing market after all. It's part of a national and global market. According to Trulia's data, a third of all home listing searches in Miami are made by people living more than 500 miles away, particularly people from New York and Chicago. Brazilians, Canadians, and Europeans have also powered the region's housing market during the crisis' throes. The housing market in America's largest, most productive and attractive metros has been globalized, putting pressure on prices and driving them up for local residents.
Two additional points worth noting. Greater Miami is also ground zero for America's shift from a home ownership society to a renter's collective. Unsold condos in downtown Miami have been converted into rentals, bringing residents from the suburbs back to the city and creating new pockets of urban energy. In an innovative initiative, the Miami Beach Community Development Corporation has purchased distressed condo buildings and turned them into affordable housing for low-wage service workers.
Florida is indeed a perfect microcosm to look to not just for the depths of our nation's housing issues but also for local, bottoms-up solutions.
Photo credit: Carlos Barria/Reuters