Broward's soaring costs have many leaving home
In 2006, more people left Broward County than moved in from other states. High costs were blamed.
BY LISA ARTHUR, TIM HENDERSON AND ROBERTO SANTIAGO
A steady influx of people relocating from throughout the nation fueled Broward's population growth for years, making it one of the country's fastest-growing counties.
But that trend reversed itself last year, according to a census report released today. It found about 18,000 more people left Broward than moved in from other states.
The new numbers confirm what many living in South Florida already know, say demographers and economists: The spiraling cost of living is making the region a less attractive place to live.
''Housing costs are out of whack, and there isn't an acceptable balance between cost of living and incomes here right now,'' said Bill Leonard, senior planner for Broward County.
To be sure, Broward and Miami-Dade County, which has been experiencing a net loss in domestic migration for decades, are still growing -- albeit slowly. But increases are being driven by newborns and foreign immigrants -- not newcomers from other states, according to census estimates.
That's a change for Broward, but experts say it's likely a temporary hiccup.
''I don't see this being a permanent tanking of South Florida; this is happening in other places around the country, too,'' said Richard Ogburn, assistant to the director of research and budget at the South Florida Regional Planning Council.
His prediction: ``Either salaries here will become more consistent with housing costs, or the housing cost structure will collapse, correct and we'll go back to where things are sustainable on what people earn here.''
LOWER NET GAIN
Statewide, the new census report shows that a net gain in people moving from other states is lower than last year's. From 2004 to 2005, the state had a net gain of 262,000; from 2005 to 2006, it was less than 166,000. But more than half of the decrease comes from net losses in Monroe, Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties.
The history of domestic net losses in Miami-Dade, hovering around 30,000 each year since 2001, has been attributed to the county's status as a gateway for immigrants. The same demographic story may become more pronounced in Broward, too.
''We've long understood Miami-Dade and Broward are points of entry, but they are also flow-through counties, with lots of immigrants moving on after getting their feet on the ground here,'' Ogburn said. ``What is international migration one year can be domestic migration the next.''
But he and others stress that it's premature to assume any long-term trend in Broward, though more and more anecdotal evidence that the county is becoming less attractive has emerged over the past two years.
• Many Broward businesses and local governments have raised concerns about housing costs driving out experienced workers and making it difficult to attract new workers to South Florida.
• Broward school officials have reported a decline in enrollment in recent years. This in a district that only a decade ago had kids sitting on floors for lack of desks and could not bring in portable classrooms fast enough to accommodate the flood of new students.
''It's an economic shift,'' said Jill Young, a demographer with Broward schools, which had about 10,000 fewer students in an annual October head count than it did two years earlier. ``People are sill coming here, but can they afford to come with children? I know we don't see a lot of kids coming out of all the new townhomes and condos.''
PROPERTY TAX CRISIS
Keeping South Florida attractive to newcomers may depend on how the Florida Legislature resolves the state's property tax crisis, says Tony Villamil, an economist with the Coral Gables-based Washington Economics Group and chairman of the Beacon Council's Economic Roundtable.
He said the property tax structure not only affects the homeowner's pocketbook, but also discourages affordable-housing construction. County assessors widely interpret Florida law as requiring property to be taxed on its best and highest use.
''When you do that, it means you have to build up and do luxury instead of doing affordable or smaller apartment buildings to make an after-tax profit,'' Villamil said.
A simple change in state law to tax on actual use and income a rental property generates, for instance, would encourage developers to build affordable apartments and condos.
''There certainly is a demand out there for more affordable and reasonably priced real estate,'' Villamil said.