Fred Grimm

Outsiders pay big bucks for a chunk of Miami’s miserable lifestyle

A row of abandoned houses in Detroit.
A row of abandoned houses in Detroit. AP

Detroit? A better place to live than Miami? Luis Hernandez-Gonzalez might beg to differ.

Last week, Miami-Dade narcotic cops punched a hole in the wall of a home belonging to Hernandez-Gonzalez and simultaneously punched a hole in the premise behind the “worst cities” ranking by 24/7 Wall St. The financial news website reported Tuesday that “No city in the United States is worse to live in than Miami.”

We ranked lower than cities like Cleveland (the joint where Miami relegates has-been superstars), crime-plagued Paterson, New Jersey, lead-poisoned Flint, Michigan, and, of course, Detroit. Apparently, 24/7 Wall St. based our relative lousiness on stuff like crime, education, economics and especially the disparity between Miami’s median home value of $245,000 and the town’s piddling median household income of $31,917 a year.

But the Hernandez-Gonzalez raid showed that Florida real estate investments can have great unseen value. And that our homeowners can harbor considerable hidden assets. On Tuesday, the very day that 24/7 Wall St. released its ranking, police officers discovered $24 million in cash hidden in the Hernandez-Gonzalez abode.

It was a magical Miami moment. The money was stuffed in 24 orange plastic Home Depot buckets, adding a special twist to the home improvement retailer’s motto, “More saving, more doing.”

According to my Miami Herald colleague David Ovalle, the lawyer for 44-year-old Hernandez-Gonzalez attributed his client’s cash cache to the wondrous success of Blossom Experience, his North Miami-Dade County hydroponics supply outlet. Police seemed skeptical, however, and charged the homeowner with money laundering and marijuana trafficking.

But that’s beside the point. The raid offered a fine illustration of why Miami shouldn’t be ranked as less livable than Detroit.

Detroit has 70,000 abandoned structures in the city limits. When scavengers punch holes in the walls of Detroit houses, they’re looking to steal copper wiring. No one expects to find buckets of money.

Admittedly, Detroit doesn’t suffer from some of Miami’s more notable vexations. Uninvited alligators don’t skinny dip in Detroit’s backyard swimming pools. Burmese pythons aren’t slithering through the Michigan weeds. Nile monitors aren’t gobbling up grandma’s Pomeranian. Justin Bieber hasn’t been caught drag racing a yellow Lamborghini through the streets of Detroit. And the feds haven’t made a haul in Detroit lately quite as impressive as the 2,000 pounds of cocaine they discovered on a freighter docked on the Miami River last month. But, hey, 2,000 pounds of coke offers yet another insight into Miami’s hidden prosperity.

Detroit has some 40,000 derelict structures earmarked for demolition, which will add to the 21 square miles of vacant land in the city limits. Empty homes and vacant land are not exactly big problems in Miami. Meanwhile, outsiders seem to happy to pay millions to suffer alongside Miamians. At least a quarter of the buyers buying up the luxury condos in the scores of high-rise towers along the waterfront and downtown are foreigners.

Admittedly, the actual identities of those buyers are often mysterious. A huge trove of confidential files leaked from a secretive Panamanian law firm — the so-called “Panama Papers” — indicated that our new neighbors are living in luxurious digs that were deeded to offshore shell companies.

The question, I suppose, is whether Miami’s phantom real estate purchases make us a less desirable home address than a Detroit market where someone can buy an empty lot or an abandoned house with a swipe of a credit card. Apparently 24/7 Wall St. thinks so. (And, for that matter, so does Forbes magazine, which named Miami as America’s most miserable city back in 2012.)

Yet 15.9 million tourists visited Miami-Dade County last year, paying about twice the average hotel room rates at those venturing into the Detroit area. (This despite the news from Travel and Leisure Magazine on Thursday has that our beleaguered city has displaced New York as the No. 1 rudest city in America. Miamians should tell Travel and Leisure where to dispose of that damn magazine. In the rudest terms imaginable.)

Of course, Detroit offers tourists something they can’t find in Miami. Last week, the Los Angeles Times reported that visitors are paying for guided tours to visit the city’s abandoned factories, churches and school buildings. Locals dubbed these new ventures “ruin porn.”

Gary, Indiana, which ranked nine places better than Miami among 24/7 Wall St.’s worst places to live, also offers ruin porn tours. Poor, miserable Miami can only counter with those 50 or so underwater wreck sites for scuba expeditions. (Hence the nickname, “Wreckreational Diving Capital of the World.”)

Life here’s so depressing, at least to 24/7 Wall St., it’s a wonder Miamians can summon the motivation to crawl out of their beach loungers on a Sunday afternoon and stumble down to the water’s edge.

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