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.
"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."
Keep Miami New Times Free... Since we started Miami New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Miami, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Miami with no paywalls.