When the Sprawl Stopped

The Strib, being ever vigilant in reading the Pioneer Press, reports on When the Sprawl Stopped:

Times are tough in the Twin Cities exurbs. Five years ago, they were among the fastest-growing cities in the nation, offering cheap land and acres of new homes at affordable prices. But the stunning collapse in the housing market and the devastating recession that accompanied it have turned the boom into a memory. The exurban communities, scarred by foreclosures, are still reeling from plummeting home values and the loss of business.

From Isanti County south to Scott County, new roads lead to phantom neighborhoods. Many homes sit empty, their owners long gone, foreclosed. Now, with $4-a-gallon gas a possibility by summer, the prospect for recovery is bleak in these neighborhoods full of long-distance commuters.

"I don't believe we've bottomed out yet," said Greg Owens, president of Community Pride Bank in Isanti. "The question is: When will it stop going down?"

The downward momentum is a sharp contrast to that of a decade ago, when communities from Cambridge to Belle Plaine exploded with growth as young families looked beyond the suburbs to buy a piece of the American dream. Land and gasoline were cheap, and the tradeoff for a 45-minute or longer commute was a bigger, more affordable home compared to those closer in.

Since 2000, the population in exurban Twin Cities counties has grown by 25 percent. Some -- Chisago, Sherburne, Scott and Wright -- saw gains of 30 percent or more.

In the city of Isanti, the population nearly tripled, from 2,300 residents to more than 6,000 late in the decade.

Anticipating continued growth and demand, developers and contractors built neighborhoods and homes faster than they could fill them.

"Everybody was going nutso," said Rojas, the bookstore owner.

Then came the crash. Thousands went into foreclosure. Others were stuck in houses worth far less than what they paid. Acres cleared for construction stayed empty.

And it's not yet over.

Statewide, foreclosures rose 11 percent -- nearly 26,000 total -- in 2010, with the greatest number in Hennepin and Ramsey counties. But the rate of foreclosure was greatest in the northern exurban counties of Sherburne, Isanti, Mille Lacs and Kanabec.

David Levinson

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This page contains a single entry by David Levinson published on April 11, 2011 9:33 AM.

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