Five years ago, as a journalism student at Florida International University, Nicole Taylor-Lang began thinking of ways to flesh out her photography portfolio. She didn’t have to look far: Only a block from her Greenacres home in Palm Beach County, she found the first subject of what would become a years-long passion project.
It was a white and beige house with boarded-up windows and a chimney shooting out of one corner. The yard was overgrown with weeds, and it looked like no one had lived there in several years.
“It had a very Little House on the Prairie feel,” Taylor-Lang says. “That house I call my baby. All of a sudden, it just started intriguing me, [these] abandoned properties.”
Since then, Taylor-Lang has traveled South Florida photographing empty homes and businesses to document the aftermath of the housing crisis, which continues to scar the landscape nearly eight years after it began. Some of the homes Taylor-Lang explores are spotless inside, as if they haven’t been touched in years. Others are marked with graffiti or damage to the interior, signs she’s not the only one to have trespassed there.
The objects inside the homes hint at the lives of the people who once occupied them: a single broom propped in a corner, a Barbie train car sitting atop a pile of junk, a stack of National Geographic issues from the 1980s.
“There’s kind of something unsettling about it,” Taylor-Lang says. “I try to picture the family that was living there.”
Recent figures paint an unclear picture of how the market has recovered after the housing bubble burst in 2007. While a new U.S. Census report says the number of new homes sold in July was the highest since October 2007, a report from the National Association of Realtors says sales of existing homes are on the decline.
South Florida trails only the Detroit area when it comes to abandoned properties. RealtyTrac recently identified more than 54,000 in the tri-county area, of which about 650 are so-called zombie foreclosures. It’s a phenomenon Taylor-Lang has seen firsthand.
“It’s difficult to think of what they once were,” she says. “The housing market seems to be doing better, but it’s sad to see how easily these buildings are forgotten.”
Now living in New York, Taylor-Lang has been focusing her lens on homes that have yet to be repaired after experiencing significant damage in Hurricane Sandy.
“It’s something I’m drawn to wherever I go — the decay,” she says. “I think about these places that were probably nice homes, and now they look like this.”