Where I live in semi-rural Riverside County in Southern California, what once were upscale housing tracts where homeowners associations enforced beautification codes are now crime-infested gated ghettos.
My son, whose job takes him throughout the county, described the malaise six months ago and I thought he was exaggerating. Not, in the least, it turns out.
My area has been clobbered by the housing market collapse beginning in 2007 and the rate of foreclosures of first-ownership new homes ranges as high as 50% in some subdivisions.
Many of the abandoned homes are broken into by squatters — prostitutes, drug runners, illegal aliens, gangs and other dredges of life. Some are rented but the once manicured lawns have gone unmowed and unirrigated.
The situation is so quirky that people qualifying for Section 8 rental assistance vouchers are living in 5,000-square-feet homes with marble kitchen counter tops and vaulted ceilings.
The county and cities, equally financially strapped, have no funds to enforce building code violations although a few are tracking down lenders and owners for fines ranging up to $1,000 per day. Where once a police car drove by once a day and night, they’re on call 24/7.
And the new first-time owners who remain have seen the $440,000 they paid for their new homes now worth $170,000.
The situation may never improve. One expert believes as many as 25 million suburban multi bedroom and bathroom homes of 5,000 square feet or more embellished by baby boomers will be forsaken by their children and grandchildren whom he predicts will prefer living in smaller quarters in cities closer to their jobs.
For a more detailed account of what originally was considered a homeowners’ paradise and now transformed into a gated ghetto in my neighboring city of Hemet, click on this story in today’s Los Angeles Times.
What I see in the housing market collapse is a staggering economic blow to the working middle class. Their earnings have been stagnate for three years. The gap between them and the affluent is widening while the gap between them and the federal poverty level is shrinking. No longer can a home be a family’s nest egg for retirement. Unless this trend is reversed, America will be a nation of two castes — the haves and the have nots. Just thinking about it sucks dry the natural optimism in me. Sad but true.
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Jerry Remmers worked 26 years in the newspaper business. His last 23 years was with the Evening Tribune in San Diego where assignments included reporter, assistant city editor, county and politics editor.