March 17, 2011 | The Miami Herald | Original Article

South Florida is more diverse and growing more slowly, Census figures show

During a decade defined by South Florida’s epic housing boom and bust, the region’s population showed modest growth, became even more diverse and left behind a trail of nearly a quarter million empty homes, according to 2010 U.S. Census figures released Thursday.

South Florida lagged behind the state’s 17.6 percent overall growth rate between 2000 and 2010, with Miami-Dade and Broward counties’ combined population growing 9.5 percent to reach a total of 4.2 million residents.

Miami-Dade’s population grew by 10.8 percent to nearly 2.5 million people, much lower than its 18.4 percent growth in the 1990s. Broward grew by just 7.7 percent to 1.7 million, compared to a 24.6 percent increase in the 1990s. The growth was overwhelmingly influenced by an influx of minorities, as the population of non-Hispanic whites tumbled region-wide.

“I’m not too surprised by the slower growth,” said Dario Gonzalez, a research associate with Florida International University’s Metropolitan Center. “We’ve had some pretty good data leading up to 2010, so this was expected.”

The slower rate of growth was no doubt steered by a housing market that boomed mightily during the first half of the decade before tailspinning sharply toward a bottom that has not yet been reached. There were more than 200,000 additional housing units created between 2000 and 2010, many of them condos built and bought by speculators.

The result: The number of vacant housing units surged by 52 percent during the decade, and there were a whopping 246,422 vacancies in South Florida in 2010. That total includes vacation homes or condos that were unoccupied when the census was taken.

“It was a combination of things,” said Shari Olefson, a Fort Lauderdale lawyer and author of Foreclosure Nation: Mortgaging the American Dream. “There were too many new units being added into the supply, people walking away from their units or losing them to foreclosure, and a lack of normal household formation because of the economy.”



Miami Beach is a case in point. The supply of housing units grew by nearly 8,000 during the decade, with condo towers going up rapidly even as population growth was basically nonexistent (the city population fell 154 residents to 87,779). Today, the city’s 20,000 empty homes account for about 30 percent of all properties, more than three times the statewide vacancy rate. Of course, the difference between permanent residents and part-timers with second homes could account for some of that.

23,000 CONDOS

In the city of Miami, where more than 23,000 new condo units were built between 2000 and 2010 and the downtown skyline was completely renovated, population growth was slower than expected.

The census pegged Miami’s population at just under 400,000, up about 10 percent from 2000. City advocates had expected a much larger increase, and are once again expressing a long-held position: The federal government severely undercounts Miami population.

In 2008, then-Mayor Manny Diaz challenged the Census Bureau’s figures with a count of the city’s own, saying that the agency missed more than 65,000 residents in its tally. The Census accepted the city’s challenge, eventually upping the total to about 425,000 in 2008, before coming back with a lower total this year in the dicennial count.

“I’m absolutely disgusted with the results, and I think Miami is one of the better cities to highlight how wrong the process is,” Diaz said Thursday. “Anybody that lives in Miami knows that we had significant growth.”

There may be an official challenge to the Census figures in the coming months.

The racial and ethnic makeup of South Florida continued to evolve over the last decade, as the number of minorities continued to increase as the proportion of non-Hispanic whites diminished.


The Hispanic population increased in a number of cities, up 20.5 percent across Miami-Dade County, and up 38 percent in Broward County. South Florida Hispanics now total more than 2 million and make up 65 percent of Miami-Dade County’s citizenry and about 25 percent of Broward’s.

In Miami-Dade, the white, non-Hispanic population dwindled 21.4 percent to 383,551 out of the 2.5 million total, or 15.4 percent. In Broward, there were 23.8 percent fewer non-Hispanic whites at the end of the decade in which the county reached so-called “minority-majority” status. Now, about 44 percent of the population in Broward is white and not Hispanic, down from 58 percent in 2000.

“These are big changes,” Gonzalez said. “Miami-Dade and Broward counties will start to see themselves a lot differently. We’re becoming a lot more like Los Angeles.”

In Hialeah, home to one of the country’s largest Hispanic communities, population fell by 0.8 percent to 224,669 in 2010.

But over the last decade, Hialeah grew even more Hispanic. In 2010, 94.7 percent of its residents identified themselves as Hispanic, an increase of nearly 5 percentage points from 2000.

Much of South Florida’s black population has shifted northward from Miami-Dade to Broward over the last 10 years, helping cities like Miramar grow rapidly.

Miami-Dade County’s black population declined 0.4 percent, while Broward’s saw a 27.7 percent uptick, with many of the new residents having roots in the Caribbean. Non-Hispanic blacks now make up 17.1 percent of Miami-Dade’s population, down from about 19 percent in 2000. In Broward, blacks account for 25.7 percent of the population, up from 20 percent 10 years ago.

Angela Nelson, a black Miami-Dade native, bought a home in Miramar last year, moving across the county line from the Miami Gardens home where she grew up. She added to Miramar’s black population increase of nearly 20,000 in the last 10 years. The city’s overall population grew by 67.8 percent, the second highest among Florida’s 20 most populous cities.

South Florida’s community of Asians also increased last decade, up 35.3 percent to 55,692 in Broward and up 14.8 percent to 35,841 in Miami-Dade.

Across the region, several cities experienced dynamic changes in a decade.

•  Homestead — the poster child for the housing boom and bust — saw its population double since the last census. The number of residents swelled from 31,000 to more than 60,000.

Councilwoman Wendy Lobos says the massive growth may help the city’s economy flourish by attracting national retail chains in addition to the staple mom-and-pop shops.

“Most of the time these businesses say we don’t have the demographics for that. I wonder if this will change,” Lobos said.

But the growth isn’t all positive. Fueled by cheap land and easy credit, housing stock in the city, tucked in deep south Miami-Dade, doubled to 23,400 units. That led to an increase of vacant homes: 4,400 are empty, a more than 300 percent spike over the last census figures.

•  Coral Gables grew by 10.7 percent as more people flocked to the affluent bedroom community, pushing the city’s population up to 46,780 in 2010 from 42,249 in 2000. Vice Mayor William “Bill” Kerdyk Jr., connected the population growth to the building boom earlier in the decade, when more than 1,000 condominiums and apartments sprang up in the downtown area and northeast quadrant. The vacancy rate jumped to 11.4 percent in 2010 from 5.9 percent in 2000.

•  Key Biscayne’s population grew to 12,344 people in 2010 from 10,507 in 2000.

“We are growing without laying a brick,” said Councilman Enrique Garcia. “A lot of condos that are owned by snowbirds are being bought by young families.”

•  Miami Beach saw condo towers and new developments pop up from South Pointe to North Beach, and the city’s tax base ballooned from $7.6 billion to $24.7 billion. On South Beach alone, the stock of condo units increased by 5,600 since 2003, jumping more than 50 percent, according to

But the census shows that the city’s permanent population stayed flat. Kevin Crowder, head of economic development for the city, said the census numbers reflect what the city already knew — that a substantial number of vacant units are actually second or third homes for tourists.

“It doesn’t mean they’re abandoned or derelict or bankrupt or not paying condo dues,” he said.

Miami Herald staff writers Laura Isensee, David Smiley, Tania Valdemoro and Christina Veiga contributed to this report.