Condo complex still not recovered after Wilma's damage

Article Courtesy of The Sun Sentinel

By Mike Clary

Published October 24, 2010


LAUDERHILL Within hours of Hurricane Wilma's passing, the Stonebridge Gardens complex in Lauderhill was declared unlivable.

When the occupants of some 400 units left, water and mold moved in. And what for 30 years had been a well-tended working class community suddenly was gone.

Today Stonebridge Gardens is a hodge-podge of recovery and ruin. The guard house is shattered and unmanned, the swimming pool is closed and weeds grow in the center of the tennis courts. The grounds of three of the complex's four sections look tattered, and many of the one- and two-bedroom apartments in Sections 1, 2 and 3 are unoccupied.

Yet Section 4, its buildings painted and grounds maintained, is almost completely full with owner-occupants.

The difference, explained Section 3 homeowners' association president Eric Nathanson, is that while Section 4 received a quick insurance settlement, the other three sections signed a contingency deal with a law firm that ended up taking more than 20 percent of the $18 million settlement it took years to obtain.

That left the three sections deeply in debt, to the Small Business Administration for $4.5 million loans, to contractors who did repairs and remodeling, and to the city of Lauderhill. Section 3 alone owes more than $100,000 in unpaid water bills.

The plummeting value of properties in those three sections has opened the door for investors like Nathanson. Before Wilma, he bought and sold units in Stonebridge, ranging in price from $125,000 to $140,000. They now sell for as little as $21,000.

Nathanson, 33, now owns more than 50 units. He fixes them up with new kitchens, plumbing, tile and paint, and rents them out for $900 to $1,100 a month, often to low-income families with Section 8 vouchers.

"Stonebridge Gardens went from a community of working people, able to buy a home, to mostly investors," said Nathanson, president of Trans Global Realty Inc. "The community got wiped out financially. And it started with Wilma."