On the campaign trail, Jeb Bush has repeatedly emphasized his record overseeing Florida’s boom economy as the state’s governor. He says it’s an example of an economy that created a huge number of jobs and benefited the middle class — an example of what he could do as president. “I know how to do this,” he said in Maitland, Fla., on Monday.
But according to interviews with economists and a review of data, Florida owed a substantial portion of its growth under Bush not to any state policies but to a massive and unsustainable housing bubble — one that ultimately benefited rich investors at the expense of middle-class families.
The bubble, one of the biggest in the nation, drove up home prices and had many short-term benefits for the state, spurring construction, spending and jobs. But the collapse of the housing bubble as Bush left office in 2007, after eight years of service, sent Florida into a recession deeper than that in the rest of the country, and hundreds of thousands lost their homes.
“Who got hammered? Lower- and middle-class America,” said Marshall Sklar, a real estate investor who, like other well-off financiers operating in the state, has benefited from the wreckage.
Sklar recently won an online auction for a small stucco condominium in Boca Raton that a married couple had bought in 2004 for no money down. They borrowed against it as the state’s housing bubble inflated and then, like so many others, had to walk away heavily in debt when it burst.
After buying their busted dream, Sklar flipped it to a wealthy investor, banking a commission. His investor will probably earn a 12 percent return by renting out the condo. The value of the condo was redistributed upward, like so much of Florida’s housing wealth in recent years. “You took it out of the sheep and gave it to the wolves,” Sklar said after touring several houses he recently bought at bargain prices.
The story of this house and its owners is in many ways emblematic of much of the experience of Florida’s economy in the 2000s — a story that contrasts sharply with the record Bush recounts.