Failures rising among districts that maintain new subdivisions
TAMPA - It's not just individual homeowners who are defaulting on their debts. Entire subdivisions are coming up short, too. According to one estimate, up to 10 percent of community development districts - tiny governmental bodies that oversee subdivisions - are in default on their bonds. In recent years, housing developers created scores of community development districts to help pay for road, storm water and park projects within subdivisions. These CDDs issue bonds to pay for the work and charge homeowners special assessments to pay off the bonds. But Florida's housing meltdown has upset their plans. Many developers haven't sold many homes so they remained on the hook to pay the special assessments because they still own so many parcels.Many can't make the payments. According to the Orlando-based economics firm Fishkind & Associates, at least 10 percent of community development districts in Florida were in default on their bonds or were in "technical default" as of May. In technical default, a district may be current in paying its bonds but may have violated a requirement set by the bondholders. Local districts that defaulted on bonds include Heritage Isles in New Tampa and Riverwood Estates near Zephyrhills. Overall, developers in Florida have created at least 500 community development districts, which issued bonds worth $13 billion. Of those, at least 51 districts were in some form of default as of May, Fishkind & Associates estimates. Just a year earlier, bonds issued by districts were considered safe and had a zero-percent default rate. Local attorneys and district managers say the public won't have to make good on the bonds. Although county governments authorize the creation of these districts, neither cities nor counties are required to guarantee the debt or come to their rescue. "In the long run, the outside government isn't affected," said Russ Weyer, a senior associate at Fishkind & Associates. Bondholders have been sweating the defaults. So, too, have banks, which discovered in the fall that their own claims on developers' assets were second in line to the bondholders' claims. For example, a bank might have loaned millions to a developer to build a subdivision and might hold a lien on the property. However, the bondholders' claim to the property is superior to the bank's lien, Weyer said. In fact, Weyer said, to protect their own lien on the subdivision, some banks have had to make bond payments on behalf of the developer. Reporter Michael Sasso can be reached at (813) 259-7865.
Reporter Michael Sasso can be reached at (813) 259-7865.