Looking for mild winters, affordable living, and low odds of being bothered by neighbors? Lehigh Acres, Florida may be right for you! It's also the poster child, the mascot, for the collapse of the American housing market.

Lehigh Acres began as a tax shelter for a man who made a fortune killing cockroaches. An unincorporated, empty parcel of land on the outskirts of Fort Myers, Lehigh Acres was sparsely developed until 2000. Between 2000 and 2006, however, the number of houses in the community doubled. Units literally could not be built fast enough as prospective suburbanites/retirees fought crowds of speculators and wannabe house-flippers for the privilege of ownership. Prices skyrocketed. By late 2005 the median home price in the area was $322,000.

Now? $106,000. And falling rapidly. $50 and a pulse are all the down payment required these days, although a psychological evaluation should probably be a prerequisite too.

Photos: Sharyn Robbins

What happened? Like anywhere else, the unsustainability of the Irrational Exuberance in buying brought the party to a swift conclusion. Oversupply sent prices into a downward spiral. Retirees on fixed incomes quickly found themselves underwater, and many of the area's new residents saw the jobs and "growth" disappear. Homes were foreclosed by the hundreds, many of which were occupied by drug dealers looking for abandoned buildings to convert into meth labs. There are no jobs, no corporate tax base, and no hope for improvement. There are thousands of abandoned, shitty houses in an area already stuffed to the gunwales with slipshod new construction.

Lehigh Acres is like a theme park for the Bush years and the unregulated housing boom, what the Hooverville was to the Great Depression. It should stand as a monument to what happens whenever cookie cutter developers rush toward an open parcel of land near an already over-developed urban area, slapping together flimsy aluminum siding ranches which will be lucky to withstand a strong breeze. Speculators ride into town on a trail of slime, doubling or tripling prices in just a few years irrespective of the fact that A) the assets in question are complete pieces of shit and B) there are thousands of them. This in turn brings even more builders, building even faster and flimsier in order to cash in on the artificial boom. The buyers fall into two categories: those who aren't bright enough to figure out that supply wildly exceeds demand and the speculators who will be long gone when the scheme collapses on the poor suckers who bought at the height of the idiocy.