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Beverly Hills vs. Compton Foreclosures
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October 24, 2008, 08:13 PM
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As I`ve mentioned before, one of the weird things about the mortgage meltdown compared to other financial bubbles was how concentrated it was among the non-affluent. Usually, bubbles put a lot of money in the hands of well-to-do people who end up blowing it. The collapse of the oil bubble in 1982, for instance, wiped out a lot of J.R. Ewing-types in ostrich-skin cowboy boots who had gotten rich in the 1970s.

But the more you look at finer-grained data, the more you see that this was all about money going to the, roughly, the second quartile of society: exactly who had to get the mortgages to raise homeownership rate from its traditional 64% to 69%, just as the Clinton and Bush Administrations hoped.

Browsing through 27 screens of Los Angeles County foreclosure data by zip code, I could better grasp why money managers in New York and London and Shanghai gave out so many stupid loans for homes in crummy neighborhoods. How can any outsider remember the difference between Huntington Beach and Huntington Park, Lynwood and Lawnwood? Aren`t they all in LA? Sunshine! Swimming pools! Movie stars!

But, by accident, one of screens compared three zip codes from two places everybody should have heard of:

So, there were 7 foreclosures in Beverly Hills and 252 in Compton in Q3-2008. Now, those places aren`t anymore exactly like you probably think: Compton has been majority Hispanic since the 2000 Census and Beverly Hills is guesstimated to be 30% Iranians.

Beverly Hills has a large number of hustlers trying to put one over on the world (compared to, say, sedate San Marino near Pasadena, with just one foreclosure). But, still, a lot more money has been lost, so far, in Compton.

(Don`t assume prices have dropped more in Beverly Hills — homes sell there so seldom that price change numbers like the -61% in the famous 90210 zip code probably have more to do with a $20 million estate selling in 2007 but not in 2008 rather than a major decline. Prices at the very top of the market had been firm up until the stock crash of the last month.)

In LA County, though, the real wipeout has come in the farthest exurbs, the high desert Antelope Valley, Lancaster and Palmdale, about 65 miles north of downtown LA by highway.

93535 is Lake Los Angeles, west of Palmdale, which ain`t got no lake, ain`t got no Los Angeles, and sure as hell ain`t got no  Lake Los Angeles, to paraphrase Wesley Snipes` wife`s opinion of the Vista View Apartments in which she lived in "White Men Can`t Jump."

There were 621 foreclosures out of about 14,000 owner-occupied homes in just three months there. Ouch. It`s half white, 30% Latino, maybe 15% black. Very working class. Back in 1999, the poverty rate was 18% compared to 14% statewide, so it, at least then, wasn`t extremely poor, it was just a lot of working class families trying to get by, trying to keep their kids out of the underclass. (Or get rich quick off flipping homes, if somebody would lend them $300,000 with no money down.)

What was everybody thinking? What possible reason was there for thinking that the American working class was suddenly developing the earning power to pay off these giant mortgages?