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PolitiFact: Mitt Romney ad incorrectly blames President Obama for Florida housing woes

A new Mitt Romney campaign ad poses the "Are you better off?" question to a particularly hard-hit population: Florida homeowners.

Against a black-and-white image of President Barack Obama, a narrator says, "Here in Florida, we're not better off under President Obama. Home values collapsed, home construction jobs lost, high rate of foreclosure."

In a state where homes lost more than half their value in the recession, it's a handy line of attack. But we found that the claim — faulting Obama for depressed house values, lost jobs and high foreclosures — oversimplifies a problem with many layers and puts too much blame on Obama for a crisis that began before he took office. (We contacted both campaigns for comment on the ad, but didn't hear back.)

Home values collapsed

We'll start by examining home values. The ad cited Zillow, a real estate website, as backup for the claim. We talked to their head economist, Stan Humphries, who shared some interesting statistics.

Home values in Florida began rising in earnest in 2003 and 2004. That accelerated through 2005, hitting a peak in May 2006. The median home value in Florida that month: $257,800.

Since that time, the median value has plummeted 51.2 percent through July 2012, to $125,700.

So yes, home values have declined during Obama's term. But there's more to the story.

Humphries pointed out that the decline under Obama so far amounts to 22.3 percent. Under his predecessor, George W. Bush, Florida home values fell 35.5 percent.

"More of those declines happened on Bush's watch than on Obama's watch," Humphries said.

Here's another thing to note about the Obama years: Home values in Florida bottomed out in October 2011. (Median price: $122,400). They've been climbing since, and in the past year they inched up 1.3 percent.

Construction jobs lost

For data on construction jobs, we turned to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

In the past decade, construction jobs in Florida enjoyed steady growth, hitting a peak in June 2006 of 691,900. They began to steadily decline at that point, shedding 100,000 jobs by October of 2007 and another 100,000 by September 2008.

The most recent jobs figure is for July 2012: 308,800.

But a closer look at those numbers reveals this:

• Jobs lost from the peak until Obama took office: 231,000

• Jobs lost since he took office: 138,200

"When housing prices started to fall, (there was) no need to build new homes," said Ken Thomas, an independent bank consultant and economist in Miami. "It was the housing crisis, the collapse of the housing bubble, that basically did in the construction workers."

High foreclosures

According to RealtyTrac, a website that collects and tracks foreclosure data, the Florida foreclosure wave crashed ashore about a year after home values collapsed.

In May 2006 (the month home values peaked), Florida had about 7,500 new foreclosure filings. In May 2007, that figure leaped to 17,000, a 128 percent increase. Filings didn't slow down for a long time, and now they are on the way up again. RealtyTrac found that Florida's foreclosure rate in August 2012 jumped to second highest in the country, with 14,726 new filings.

"Unlike other foreclosure cycles in the past, this wasn't the result of a bad economy. It was the excesses in the housing market in terms of prices and overbuilding," said Daren Blomquist, vice president at RealtyTrac.

Our ruling

Romney's ad claims that under Obama, home values in Florida collapsed, construction jobs were lost and the state's foreclosure rate soared.

This much is true: The median home value in Florida has dropped by more than half, 300,000-plus construction jobs have disappeared and the Sunshine State continues to rack up a large number of foreclosure filings.

But pinning it on Obama? That's a stretch.

"Blaming Obama for property value declines that were under way during the Bush administration, and caused in part by financial regulators who were asleep in the cockpit during the Bush years, is ridiculous," Ken Harney, a syndicated real estate columnist, told PolitiFact. "The Obama administration is open to criticism for the poorly designed, timid and poorly executed foreclosure-prevention and loan modification efforts it created following the housing bust, but had nothing to do with the underlying problems that took down Florida's hyperinflated property values."

At PolitiFact, claims that cite a true statistic but apply misplaced blame on a politician or officeholder are commonly rated Half True. We think this three-part claim stretches the truth even further. Home­owners in Florida who have watched their property value sink and their neighbors' houses abandoned in foreclosure know this didn't start when Obama walked into the White House. They're more than six years into this grim reality.

Romney's ad leaves out many critical facts to create a misleading impression. We rate it Mostly False.

This ruling has been edited for print. Read the full version at PolitiFact.com.

The statement

Under Obama, home values in Florida collapsed, construction jobs were lost and the state had a high foreclosure rate.

Mitt Romney, in a TV ad

The ruling

PolitiFact ruling: Mostly False
This three-part claim stretches the truth pretty significantly. Homeowners in Florida who have watched their property value sink and their neighbors' houses abandoned in foreclosure know this didn't start when Obama walked into the White House. They're more than six years into this grim reality. Romney's ad leaves out many critical facts to create a misleading impression. We rate it Mostly False.

PolitiFact: Mitt Romney ad incorrectly blames President Obama for Florida housing woes 09/14/12 [Last modified: Monday, September 17, 2012 8:54pm]

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