Monday, April 06, 2009

Miami Herald redacts Associated Press article highlighting our blog ... by gimleteye

REDACT: to obscure or remove text from a document prior to publication or release.

On Sunday, the Herald reprinted the AP story on foreclosures in Homestead whose original version appeared in many newspapers around the nation and featured our blog. The lengthy national story by former Miami New Times and St. Pete Times journalist Tamara Lush featured the foreclosure crisis and included the view we expound here, on Eyeonmiami. The Herald version on the weekend, printed in the Neighbors section, redacted the AP segment of the story that featured Eyeonmiami and, specifically, my views of the crisis. (please click, 'read more')

Blog readers can venture their own opinion about the redaction, but Herald readers will not have a chance to even see it, unless they read Eyeonmiami. I will grant the editor this point: perhaps there were other stories of greater importance in the Miami Herald Neighbors Section that required some cutting of the AP story. Perhaps the editor believes my view is adequately represented in the Herald. Or, the editor could have wanted to telegraph his or her or their disagreement with views I've expressed for years, at length, that relentlessly cast Miami's development patterns and practices in a harsh light: the housing asset bubble had its origin in South Florida where the gears of Wall Street greed matched up with local politics and decision makers making terrible choices on zoning changes promoted by lobbyists and the "environmental" land use practices of big downtown law firms like Greenberg Traurig.

The Herald under-reported the tension and conflicts arising out of development in South Dade farmland, edging to the Everglades and Biscayne National Park over a very long period of time. Only Jim Morin, the Herald's acclaimed editorial cartoon artist, has dedicated the focus this subject deserves.

Yes, the Herald supported award-winning investigative stories related to the crisis, like "Borrowers Betrayed" and "House of Lies", but for the main part the paper's executives failed to judge the overdevelopment of South and West Dade of importance to its subscriber base and, in doing so, nudged the paper to irrelevance. Why? Because this story wraps up the biggest economic and political event since the Depression. Herald executives could have directed its journalists to chase it down, or as we have suggested, up the political food chain. (According to Herald reporters, in the latter stages of the housing boom, the Herald did initiate lengthy investigative pieces on the topics in South Dade, but decided not to print them.) For example, why did "Borrowers Betrayed" focus mainly on the wrongs done to poor and lower middle class homeowners and not the politics that created the upheaval in the first place? Politics that lead straight to the Governor's Office and Washington, DC. The Herald did not. Why? Out of what sense of balance? Out of what decisions regarding readers' interest? As a result, coverage of our environmental and economic crises brought about by overdevelopment, appearing for readers of regional state newspapers from the Naples Daily News to the Palm Beach Post, the Treasure Coast Palm, the Orlando Sentinel, and the St. Pete Times all surged ahead of the Miami Herald.

Reprinted below is the Herald version of the AP story and, after, the entire AP text in a side-by-side comparison, with the redacted paragraphs highlighted in the AP story so you can form your own opinion.


Posted on Sat, Apr. 04, 2009
Homestead, Florida City face high rate of foreclosures

BY TAMARA LUSH
Seventeen years after Hurricane Andrew leveled much of South Miami-Dade, a different kind of storm is devastating households here: Foreclosures.

In certain ZIP codes in places like Homestead and Florida City, about 25 percent of the homes are in a stage of the foreclosure process. Others were built by developers and sit vacant in ghostly subdivisions, with not a buyer in sight.

In the days after Andrew, then-Dade County Emergency Management Director Kate Hale said on national TV: ``Where the hell is the cavalry on this one?''

The same could be asked now, in this new disaster. People in South Miami-Dade -- like people in foreclosure-strewn cities across the nation -- are wondering: How did we get here?

And, what's next?

Here's what Jose Reina thought in 2006, when he bought the two-story, three-bedroom, 2 ½-bath home in a subdivision called The Oasis in Homestead: ``I should buy right now. The market in Florida has been going nothing but up.''

Here's what Reina thinks in 2009: ``I think I'd rather sell and go rent somewhere. For the amount that I pay here, I could rent a mansion somewhere.''

Reina, who is 31 and works as a police officer in another city, knows he can't simply sell. He paid $352,000 for his house, then spent months landscaping the front yard, laying sod and solar safety lights and little terra cotta vases for decoration near the walkway.

''See that house over there?'' he said recently, pointing to a gray house that is nearly identical to his. ``It was foreclosed on last month. The bank is trying to sell it for $147,000.''

He knows it will be years, maybe decades, until he can sell his home for what he paid for it. He's tried talking to his bank about adjusting the mortgage, but they said no.

Meanwhile, he's concerned about all the empty houses around him. Some renters moved in down the street, and he wonders if crime will follow.

''I also pay $130 a month in maintenance fees, and not even the front security gate works,'' he said.

Cathee Cotton once sold dreams. Now she's watching nightmares. Just in the past month, here's what the 30-year real-estate veteran has seen:

A family who was evicted from their rental house because their landlord was foreclosed on.

A home for a prospective buyer that was occupied by two families squatting inside -- with five children.

A propane tank and men's boots inside an empty home.

''Either it was a meth lab or someone was living without electricity,'' she said, eyes wide at the memory.

It's different from 2006. Cotton remembered standing in the driveways of $300,000 homes and watching as buyers signed purchase contracts on car hoods. She recalled bidding wars for modest ranch homes.

These days, those same homes are vacant and are the ones where everything -- including the kitchen cabinets and copper wiring -- have been stripped by thieves. And there's the places like the one on the corner of her own street, where the owners fled in the middle of the night.

They left behind a pack of dogs.

She thinks things will get worse in the coming months -- worse than when Andrew blew everything away. At least then, she said, help arrived from the rest of Florida and the nation.

''Where is the rescue going to come from now?'' she asked. ``Everyone is hurting just like we are.''

Since October, 2,257 properties have gone into foreclosure in Homestead.

Mayor Lynda Bell is quick to say that she saw the crisis brewing years ago when a parade of developers marched into the City Council's chambers, asking them to approve dozens of projects. Bell was elected in November, 2007, after serving as a council member. One of her missions: To pass a building moratorium on most residential development -- which was passed in December 2007.

''After Hurricane Andrew, we had 10 years of financial famine,'' Bell said. ``When we started to get food -- money -- we became gluttons. We didn't want to say no to anything that would impede the tax base. We had suffered so much.''

Bell said she opposed most of the multifamily townhome projects because she felt that lower-income families could never afford them. She did approve the single-family dwellings.

Eventually, she questioned how, in a city where the median income was around $27,000 in 2007, the median home price was more than $300,000.

The answer emerged.

''Speculators,'' she said, shaking her head and rolling her eyes. ``Speculators drove up the housing market.''

Now many of those speculators are forced to rent their properties, which drives home values down even more. Many older properties that were bought and flipped two or three times are now rundown and boarded up.

Bell says she's hopeful for Homestead's future, which includes $3 million of federal money for the community of 57,000 people. The city will use the funds to buy and rehabilitate rental properties for low-income families, demolish damaged houses and provide down-payment help for single-family home buyers.

Dean Richardson steers a mud-covered golf cart through rows of tropical trees, pointing out how to tell an Alexander Palm from a Christmas Palm.

Richardson, who has farmed his 10-acre patch of land in South Miami-Dade for 27 years, was a beneficiary of the area's real-estate boom.

These days, he's a victim of the bust.

For years, Richardson sold his trees to landscapers and developers who planted those swaying slices of the tropics in shopping malls, office parks and the front yards of new homes across the country. But in mid-2008, Richardson noticed a slowdown in orders. Then business stopped altogether. Although many farmers had sold their land to developers and made a killing years earlier, it was too late for Richardson.

''It was like someone had turned the switch off,'' he said.

He laid off eight of his nine full-time employees and worried about the future.

In late August, a friend called. ''Have you thought about growing organic vegetables on your property?'' the friend asked.

''I am now,'' Richardson replied.

He decided to plant the unusual: Purple carrots, black radishes, funky beets. He's making enough to hang on.

Richardson still grows his palms -- he just got an order for 66 to be placed in a new office building -- but he knows the organic vegetables may be just the thing to ride out this downturn. He still hopes that South Florida will boom again.

''I think it will come back,'' he said. ``Let's face it. This is March, and we're in short sleeves. It's winter, and you're not going to have this in New York, ever.''


© 2009 Miami Herald Media Company. All Rights Reserved.
http://www.miamiherald.com


Disaster: Homestead, Fla., hit by foreclosures
By TAMARA LUSH – 13 hours ago
HOMESTEAD, Fla. (AP) — Seventeen years after Hurricane Andrew leveled much of southern Miami-Dade County, a different kind of storm is devastating households here: foreclosures.

In certain ZIP codes in places like Homestead and Florida City, around 25 percent of the homes are in one stage of foreclosure or another. Countless others were built by developers and sit vacant in ghostly subdivisions, with not a buyer in sight.

In the days after Andrew, then-Dade County Emergency Management Director Kate Hale famously said on national TV: "Where the hell is the cavalry on this one?"

The same could be asked now, in this new disaster. People in south Miami-Dade — just like people in foreclosure-strewn cities across the nation — are wondering: How did we get here?

And, what's next?
___
UNDERWATER AND ANGRY

Here's what Jose Reina thought in 2006, when he bought the two-story, 3-bedroom, 2.5-bath home in a subdivision called The Oasis in Homestead: "I should buy right now. The market in Florida has been going nothing but up."

Here's what Reina thinks in 2009: "I think I'd rather sell and go rent somewhere. For the amount that I pay here, I could rent a mansion somewhere."

Reina, who is 31 and works as a police officer in another city, knows he can't simply sell. He paid $352,000 for his house, then spent months landscaping the front yard, laying sod and solar safety lights and little terra cotta vases for decoration near the walkway.

"See that house over there," he points to a gray house that is nearly identical to his. "It was foreclosed on last month. The bank is trying to sell it for $147,000."

He knows it will be years, maybe decades, until he can sell his home for what he paid for it. He's tried talking to his bank about adjusting the mortgage, but they said no.

Meanwhile, he's concerned about all the empty houses around him. Some renters moved in down the street and he wonders if crime will follow.

"I also pay $130 a month in maintenance fees, and not even the front security gate works."
___
"IT'S TERRIFYING"
Cathee Cotton once sold dreams. Now she's watching nightmares.
Just in the past month, here's what the 30-year real estate veteran has seen:

_ A family who was evicted from their rental house because their landlord was foreclosed on.
_ A home for a prospective buyer that was occupied by two families squatting inside — with five little children.
_ A propane tank and men's boots inside an empty home.

"Either it was a meth lab or someone was living without electricity," she says now, eyes wide at the memory.
It's different from 2006. Cotton remembers standing in the driveways of $300,000 homes and watching as buyers signed purchase contracts right on car hoods. She recalls bidding wars for modest ranch homes.

These days, those same homes are vacant and are the ones where everything — including the kitchen cabinets and copper wiring — have been stripped by vandals. And there's the places like the one on the corner of her own street, where the owners fled in the middle of the night.

They left behind a pack of dogs.

She thinks things will get worse in the coming months — worse than when Andrew blew everything away. At least then, she says, help arrived from the rest of Florida and the nation.

"Where is the rescue going to come from now?" she asks. "Everyone is hurting just like we are."
___
A FUTURE IN THE DIRT
Dean Richardson steers a mud-covered golf cart through rows of tropical trees, pointing out how to tell an Alexander Palm from a Christmas Palm. Richardson, who has farmed his 10-acre patch of land in south Miami-Dade County for 27 years, was a beneficiary of the area's real estate boom.

These days, he's a victim of the bust.

For years, Richardson sold his trees to landscapers and developers who planted those swaying slices of the tropics in shopping malls, office parks and the front yards of new homes across the country.

But in mid-2008, Richardson noticed a slowdown in orders. Then business stopped altogether. Although many farmers had sold their land to developers and made a killing years earlier, it was too late for Richardson.

"It was like someone had turned the switch off," he said. He laid off eight of his nine full-time employees and worried about the future. In late August, a friend called. "Have you thought about growing organic vegetables on your property?" the friend asked.

"I am now," Richardson replied.

He decided to plant the unusual: purple carrots, black radishes, funky beets. He's making enough to hang on.

Richardson still grows his palms — he just got an order for 66 to be placed in a new office building — but he knows the organic vegetables may be just the thing to ride out this downturn. He still hopes that South Florida will boom again.
"I think it will come back," he said. "Let's face it. This is March, and we're in short sleeves. It's winter, and you're not going to have this in New York, ever."
___
BLOGGING THE TRUTH

At 5:30 a.m. everyday, Alan Farago sits at his computer and tries to draw parallels between the housing crisis in Miami-Dade County and what's going on in Wall Street boardrooms and White House conference rooms.

Farago, who lives in Coral Gables — a suburb some 20 miles north of Homestead — co-writes a popular blog called Eye on Miami. Since 2006, he's rifled through public documents and detailed much of the mortgage fraud, banking shenanigans and corruption that preceded the area's economic meltdown.

"I ask myself: this is really depressing stuff. Who's going to want to read this?" he says. "Then I tell myself, someone has to lay out what has happened."

Farago moved to the Miami area from the Florida Keys just days before Andrew hit. He'd always been interested in the Everglades and Biscayne National Park — two national reserves that abut the southern part of the county — so during the rebuilding in the wake of Andrew, Farago went to planning meetings and spoke out against policies that encouraged suburban sprawl. He volunteered for a half-dozen responsible growth groups and was once involved with the state chapter of the Sierra Club, fighting to save the delicate Everglades wetlands.

His advice was ignored and thousands of acres were developed. For years, Miami-Dade County's entire economy was dependent on growth — growth that was dependent on a never-ending supply of sunshine, easy credit and new residents.
Now, Farago says, the entire country is paying the price.

"The whole of Miami's establishment prospered by the easy conversion of cheap land into suburban sprawl," he says. "It's the development pattern of South Florida that brought down the economy."

Farago places the blame of the housing crisis not only on banks, but on developers, lobbyists and — most of all — local officials who approved the projects in the first place.

"Florida's a place where the gears of the development machine were all perfected."

___
MAYOR: I TOLD YOU SO

Since October, 2,257 properties have gone into foreclosure in the city of Homestead.

Mayor Lynda Bell is quick to say that she saw the crisis brewing years ago when a parade of developers marched into the City Council's chambers, asking them to approve dozens of projects.

"After Hurricane Andrew, we had 10 years of financial famine," says Bell. "When we started to get food — money — we became gluttons. We didn't want to say no to anything that would impede the tax base. We had suffered so much."

Bell says she opposed most of the multifamily town home projects because she felt that lower-income families could never afford them. She did approve the single-family dwellings. Eventually, she questioned how, in a city where the median income was around $27,000 in 2007, the median home price was over $300,000.

The answer emerged. "Speculators," she says, shaking her head and rolling her eyes. "Speculators drove up the housing market."

Now many of those speculators are forced to rent their properties, which drives home values down even more. Many older properties that were bought and flipped two or three times are now run down and boarded up.

Bell says she's hopeful for Homestead's future, which includes $3 million of federal stimulus money for the community of 57,000 people. The city will use the funds to buy and rehabilitate rental properties for low-income families, demolish damaged houses and provide down-payment help for single-family home buyers.

The mayor says one other thing was recently approved by city officials, in hopes of reversing the damage done by the housing boom: a building moratorium on all new construction.

Copyright © 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

11 comments:

Anonymous said...

Consider it an honor.

Andy said...

Hahaha. Not that much thought goes into the Neighbors section. That section is a sweatshop. If the mention was cut it was probably because some poor bastard had been putting that book together for 10 hours straight and wanted to go home. I wouldn't read too much into it.

Anonymous said...

I canceled my Miami Herald Subscription.

South Florida Lawyers said...

Classic Herald editorial policy. If they are beat to a story by a competitor they find a way to "cover" it without acknowledging the source or entity that originally broke it.

They have been doing that to the DBR for years.

Anonymous said...

The Daily Business Review had the story a year earlier with a curiously similar beginning.

Tom Falco said...

I just posted this in the comments section of SFDB, but here it is again:

Regarding the Miami Herald and Eye on Miami. The Herald is afraid of the local blogs and one reason is that they have been stealing stories and ideas and intellectual property from them.

Recently I ran a photo from the Herald by accident, a reader sent it in and it was from the Commission meeting on the Marlins Stadium, the whole town was there so I thought the reader took the picture. When I found out it was the Herald's I gave them credit and linked back to the original picture, which may not be entirely kosher, but all of a sudden, I had their whole legal team on me. Even from McClatchy in California.

I ended up removing the photo rather than pay 75.00 per day. I explained that I have had my own photos used by every publication in town as a courtesy and they should try to do the same and not be such hard asses.

The ironic part is that for three years, they stole most of my Grove stories and ran them in Neighbors. They don't have beat reporters who can cruise the Grove or any neighborhood all day digging up human interest things, so they just read blogs and have the writers steal the ideas and stories and rewrite them. I have so many stories that are word for word that they were too stupid to even re-write.

Anyway, I should have charged them for my stories for the past three years like they wanted to charge me for one photo.

The reason the Herald avoid any mention of any blog in the area is that they don't want their readers to see the real source of the stories -- local blogs, which ran the story a day or so before.

I sent a cease and desist order for them to stop stealing stories. Now they have no Grove news or maybe one story a month, rather than the 50 or so they had a month by taking mine.

Anonymous said...

Riley says,

What ever happened to the South Dade News Leader, Homestead's local paper(now once weekly)? Well I'll tell you: they are coached not to say anything about gloom & doom in their city today, and if they had had some investigative reporting years ago when Shiver was mayor & then Warren and the fab 5 (Council members), the forclosure east side city wouldn't be in the pitiful shape it is in now. But you see the paper is financed by the First Natl Bank & Community Bank with thousands of dollars in ads. (Mortgages)
What a shame, & who to blame?

The SDNL sure give Mayor Bell large photo attention at city functions,pick-ing in tomato fields, political grandstanding,and doing nothing
on Main Street renewal,(Dead bones)

Boy ,let the Race Cars come into town & she's front and center.
The SDNL isn't what it use to be
with lots of local news; Their History page on Fridays says much
of their local past events.

Had the local media been more involved in questional city politics and not cowtowing to the politicans (don't rock the boat) and developers; let's also not forget city planners with developer friends, the city wouldn't have 2,257 forclosures
today & more on the way.

Delaware Job Hunters said...

This article makes me think of this quote, "Seasonal unemployment was found to be a state which does not have much employment, for example, rural areas."

But there are career experts who conduct seminars giving concrete advice about the needed skills to compete in today's competitive job market.

Anonymous said...

Gimleteye writes:

Grapevines comments are notable. The Herald is struggling to deal with blogs that are siphoning off readership. There is nothing coincidental about its redaction of the story Eyeonmiami has been harping on; that Miami-Dade is the epicenter of the national economic crisis because this is the place where the mechanics of political interference on behalf of big development interests meshed with the gears of the Wall Street derivatives machinery that rained billions in compensation while sowing the seeds of economic ruin. The Herald could have published this story when it had the chance-- and Eyeonmiami arose in large part because the Herald refused to do so.

The Herald still can't figure out how to report the economic crisis and its Miami origins without alienating its advertisers from the production home builders and supply chain. As I've written before, at length: take the excellent investigative series: "Borrowers Betrayed". Its extraordinary skill discloses the fraud within a lightly regulated mortgage industry but never chased the fraud up the political food chain to the champions of the "free market" and anti-regulatory forces in the housing industry and Chambers of Commerce.

But this story -- and the fact that Eyeonmiami is reporting it and the Herald is not-- is exactly to the point that influential readers ARE reading our blog and have come to accept that the news universe includes blogs that report out facts even without a business model that acts as a governing mechanism on facts the public is exposed to. (Non Group, anyone?)

Readers know perfectly well that special interests have counted, for a long long time, on the editing of stories to be told a certain way. The blogs bust it up.

The Herald's placement of the AP feature-- in its Neighbors section for South Dade-- is exactly the point. This story is a front page, A section story: and it was, in numerous newspapers around the country when it appeared.

The Herald, because it hasn't and can't tell the whole story, sticks it in the orphan section of the newspaper. In the placement AND the redaction is the entire story of the conflict between mainstream newspapers clinging to a failed business model and blogs that have no business model but attract readers because the blogs tell it the way it is, not necessarily the way advertisers want to hear it.

I respect Grapevine for taking advertising dollars, and we are considering how to do the same. It is very interesting that the Herald attorneys, and McClatchy, swooped down on Grapevine for linking to a photograph. In the Herald on Sunday, the paper's editor made the bold claim that the Herald is here to stay and noted its strong presence on the web. They are worried about competitors with a radically lower cost base but until the Herald starts reporting news that readers want, blogs like ours will continue to siphon readers.

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Anonymous said...

The Herald is absolutely dead-in-the-water. All of their money is being spent on debt payments, therefore they cannot afford to have reporters. An even better example of their knee jerk reaction was a story Tamara did for AP that reported on the guy who shot 5 people and himself last month.I was able to read the whole story on the SAN FRANCISCO EXAMINER, while the Herald still had a 2 line breaking news blurb. I commented on this and 10 minutes later they had Tamara's AP story up. Sad, sad, sad little paper.