I was shocked, I tell you, shocked when I returned in 2006 to live nearer my son who had joined the Riverside County District Attorney's office as an investigator after a stellar 11 years as a cop on the National City Police Department.
The place was a thriving suburb of Metropolitan Riverside. New streets. New homes. Shopping centers as far as the eye could see. And all the snarled traffic that goes with it.
As my daughter-in-law drove east on Winchester Avenue, one of numerous arterial streets lined with bumper-to-bumper shopping malls, strip malls and new tract homes, I innocently asked where all the people came to support these stores.
"All over," she said. "People move here because it is clean, safe and less expensive than the larger cities." True. Thousands were commuters to jobs in San Diego, Riverside and Orange County.
The city councils of Temecula and Murietta and the Board of Supervisors of Riverside County were spending their tax treasuries as fast as the money rolled in just to keep pace with the rampart growth.
By the end of 2007, the housing market collapsed followed by the bank meltdown a year later and we know the result of all that.
It comes as no surprise, therefore, that an analysis by Forbes points at metropolitan Riverside as one of the nation's top 10 hardest hit and slowest to recover.
Three years after the crash began, Forbes says Riverside's average home value has dropped 44%. While the nation gained 162,000 jobs last month, Riverside lost 13% from their level three years earlier. Riverside's unemployment rate is 15%, well above the national average of 9.7%.
Across Winchester Avenue where I live in a sprawling apartment complex, it goes without coincidence that the banks are equal sufferers. Early last year a bank with drive-in window and all was completed and has sat vacant to this day with a for sale sign posted in the landscaped divider next to the street.
Riverside, as is the case in other Sun Belt states, cannot recover while the flood of foreclosed homes remain a drag on the housing market, and more are coming. "These were highly speculative housing markets," says Jonathan Miller, president of Miller Samuel, a Manhattan-based real estate appraisal firm.
"In California, so many jobs were concentrated in construction," says Michael Fratantoni, vice president of research at the Mortgage Bankers Association, the professional association for real estate financiers. "Jobs building single family homes wound up not being sustainable, and there were a lot of job losses."
The long-term consequences of the housing crash in these cities are still playing out, and new factors that complicate a recovery keep cropping up.
"Places like Phoenix and Riverside may take even longer to recover because people might just pick up and leave to go to places doing better," says Fratantoni. "It may make more sense to leave, rather than wait for jobs to return."
No kidding. One new gated community in nearby Hemet has turned into a crime infested ghetto, according to a Los Angeles Times story we reported on last month.
Forbes' list of the 10 top cities hardest hit include Riverside, Phoenix, Miami, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Providence, Tampa, Orlando, Jacksonville and Sacramento.
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