Real estate bust turns suburbs into modern-day ghost towns

Antillean Isles, a new Homestead subdivision, promised homeowners a community of elegant estate homes with the "alluring architecture of the tropics."

But when Martha Samohano glances out the window of her four-bedroom house she doesn't see the tropics — just dirt, gravel and weeds. After the housing bubble burst, developers packed up their bulldozers and fled, leaving a bleak, lifeless landscape, frozen the moment things went sour.

"Everything is empty around me," Samohano said. "It's very depressing to live in an area where you only have weeds growing up."

While the darkened downtown Miami condominium tower has become a symbol of the real estate bust, at least most builders stayed around to see their projects through to completion. Things are worse in the South Florida's most far-flung subdivisions.

Prices have plunged more than 53 percent over the past 12 months in Miami-Dade County's far south suburbs, including Homestead, Florida City and neighboring incorporated areas. In Miami's downtown and Brickell districts, considered ground zero for the bust, the drop has been more modest, about 30 percent.

For builders like Silvio Cardoso, it's a big headache. Like so many suburban developers, he flocked to the expansive, agricultural lands in South Dade hoping to create Miami's new bedroom communities when the housing boom stirred earlier this decade. He launched two projects around Homestead, Riviera Grand Estates and Santa Barbara of Homestead.

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