Live from one of America’s mortgage crisis epicenters
I might not technically be writing about youth sports with this post, but I’ll bring it up somewhere to make sure I keep the theme.
I’m in Bradenton, Fla., packing up the condo my mother-in-law just sold. (Obviously, not packing at this very moment.)
She, I and my family are pretty sad over her selling. She’s had the place for 17 years. My wife and I used it as the base for our honeymoon. My 6-year-old son did his first crawling there. The oldest son, now 11, had his first tub (well, kitchen sink) bath there. We regret my 3-year-old daughter has only been there once. Lots and lots of great memories, and more than that the loss of a place that we knew we could use to escape from real life for a little while.
However, that feeling is balanced by the fact that we don’t get down here as much as we used to (whole family hasn’t been down since August 2006), and what I’m seeing down here now. Real life is hitting damn hard. (Note: I know this post is going to be text-heavy, but I’ll update later with a few pics, after I drive home.)
Sarasota-Bradenton-Venice’s median housing value is down 33 percent since September 2007, and half of that decline is just since August 2008, according to eppraisal.com. The Florida Association of Realtors puts the year-over-year (November 2007 to 2008 ) decline at 35 percent, with home sales down 13 percent. All sorts of places — restaurants, grocery stores, knick-knack shops, banks, whatever — that I remember thriving when I was last here are shuttered. The place I where rented the moving truck sells used cars. The owner told me business for him is good, unlike the boom times, when people refinanced their houses to buy new cars, boats and whatever else. Now, people are coming to his lot because they absolutely have to get a car, and they absolutely can not get credit anywhere else.
Jeb Bush’s school reforms, for whatever they were worth, are dying on the vine because education finances are getting killed ($480 million in state cuts to schools this year, for starters). Property-tax appraisals are annual, based on the average price of real estate the previous January — great if times are booming, apocalyptic if they are not. Sarasota County had to make $31 million in cuts to next year’s budget. In Manatee County, where I’m sitting, the district has decided to double its substitute-teacher pool rather than replace teachers who leave so they can more easily let go teachers if enrollment and funding decline.
All of this will get even worse when the January 2009 numbers come in. In Pinellas County (St. Petersburg), the $41 million in budget cuts this year are only half of what they will be next year — $82 million. In Hillsborough County (Tampa), the district will have to cut $86 million next year on top of the $57 million this year. My mother-in-law was fortunate she got an offer and that she is making money off the sale of her condo, because most people aren’t. One condo in her 50-unit building is in foreclosure, while another just down the hall from her has gotten its second notice, according to the condo association meeting minutes I saw by the elevator. People here are telling me all sorts of horror stories about how people who bought at the peak suddenly see themselves $200,000 under water, and that doesn’t even take into account that it’s not just the mortgages in these homes that are toxic, as this story about destructive Chinese drywall attests.
Tourism, one of the major underpinnings of the economy, has taken a huge hit as well, and on top of the that the state of Florida is talking about cutting its tourism marketing budget. I don’t know specific numbers, but I know driving around here is remarkably easier than it normally is over past winters. I guess I’ve contributed to the decline, not having been to Bradenton since 2006. Of course, it was a lot easier to go when plane fares were dirt-cheap. It cost me $100 for my one-way ticket from Chicago Midway to Sarasota, a lot less than last year’s high-gas-price sticker shock. But it used to be we could easily find deals to go for about $100 round-trip.
So what does this have to do with youth sports?
Certainly, at some point, if it hasn’t happened, schools, localities are going to have to hike fees and cut programs. Lincoln, Calif., a suburb of another mortgage meltdown epicenter (Sacramento), is proposing eliminating its youth sports program altogether to balance its budget. Here in the Sarasota-Bradenton area, there is talk of cutting coaches’ salaries (in most schools, coaches are paid a small stipend on top of their teaching pay) or having more of the subs handling those duties. That assumes the number of kids playing organized youth sports goes up or stays even, not a sure bet. The districts here in Southwest Florida, which for years had students in trailers because they couldn’t build schools fast enough (or get enough funding from the locals to build them as they were needed), are closing schools because of declining enrollment.
A lot of people say that youth sports is recession proof, that in fact it gets even more popular in tough economic times as people choose those activities over big-ticket items and vacations. I suspect Bradenton and Southwest Florida are going to show us whether such an assertion is true.