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Lake Worth, Fla. — When Todd Kevitch, 45, moved his family into a development in West Boynton in 2008, the market had already begun to fall from the wildly inflated prices his neighbors had paid. He thought he had caught a deal during a momentary lull. He was wrong.
“Immediately after we bought, six months later, the values kept going down, people became a lot more apathetic, miserable,” said Kevitch, who works as a real estate broker. “You could see lawns growing higher, pools turning black.”
Two homes across the street from his were vacant for three years. The house next door is still empty.
“It’s not scary. It’s depressing,” Kevitch said. “It doesn’t happen overnight. It happens gradually. You kind of live with it.”
A JCC in West Palm Beach closed. A Conservative Jewish day school in Boynton Beach closed. Enrollment at the Hebrew school at Temple Beth Tikvah, a Conservative synagogue near Lake Worth, dropped from 120 kids to fewer than 30. The Jewish Federation of Palm Beach County raised $17 million less in 2009 than it had in 2007.
The Jewish Family & Children’s Service, which was used to fielding a few irregular emergency calls from the chronically poor, was deluged with panicked phone calls from middle-class and once-wealthy people. Adult children began moving in with their parents at the retirement communities, bringing along husbands and girlfriends — but risking expulsion if they brought children.
Donald Steinberg’s home is still underwater. A teacher in the Palm Beach County public school system, he has a soft Quebecois accent and a serious face. Steinberg bought a home in a development near Lake Worth in 2000. Now he owes more on it than the home is worth, but he’s not walking away.
“I wasn’t raised that way,” Steinberg said. “A man has responsibilities.”
Steinberg, 47, voted for John McCain in 2008. He’s voting for Mitt Romney this year, but he doesn’t sound enthusiastic. “At this point I would say he would do a little bit better of a job” than Obama has done, Steinberg said. “I really think this country is in such dire straits, I don’t think anyone could fix it.”
The anarchists don’t air-condition their place in downtown Lake Worth, but the shotgun house stays cool in the shade of a ficus tree. There’s an unexplained scythe next to the door and fire-dancing gear in the yard. They’ve planted seeds outside, though their claim to be growing vegetables is undermined by their pronouncement that they’re going to use the full-sized rusted-out tractor sitting in front of the house to till their tiny plot.