The housing/growth boom of the last decade was a wild ride for the West, feeling a bit like a euphoric all-night meth binge. Only the drug in this case was easy credit and an unshakable belief that the good times could never end. Nearly three years after the housing bubble reached its bursting point -- easy now to pin at mid-2006 -- we're still suffering from serious withdrawal. The rash of foreclosures may have slowed a bit at the end of last year, but now they appear to be jumping back up again (Krissy Clark at American Radio Works did a great series on Las Vegas' foreclosure nightmare). Housing starts are lower than ever. Check out these building permit comparisons:
March 2006 March 2009
Phoenix 4,658 544
Las Vegas 5,353 278
Albuquerque 873 120
Denver 398 278
Home sales are so low, and values along with them, that people aren't even moving anymore -- the great, mobile America is stuck. Given how crucial in-migration was to the West's growth machine, this will just slow the slowdown to the speed of cold molasses. It's gotten so bad that golf courses in Phoenix are going into foreclosure.
What I'm really interested in is: What's next? Some folks believe that as soon as the economy turns around (if it turns around), the Western growth machine will kick itself back into gear. I, for one, am not so sure. I tend to believe that things were shifting even before the crash, and that the downturn will totally readjust how we think about and do growth. But I'm really interested in your thoughts. Read our stories on the topic -- which focus on Phoenix -- and let us know what you think, either in the comment section of the story, or at our Facebook pages.