Most of the buyers had acquired their homes through online auctions. None had ever actually been to Peoria; nor did they have any plans to move there. And yet they bid by the dozens, if not hundreds, on homes throughout Peoria’s dying south end, drawn by the desire to own property, an essential piece of the American Dream that had eluded them in the places where they lived and seemed to grow more distant with each passing month. Somehow, they had found a version of that dream online — and in a place called Peoria — that seemed almost as good. “I felt like I had finally found a cheat code,” Culver said.
The story of West Lincoln Avenue’s bizarre summer land rush starts with the deindustrialization of the Rust Belt, which had hollowed out Peoria’s once-thriving south end. It spans decades of growing inequality, which had turned America into a place of winners and losers with less and less in between. The trigger, though, was the pandemic, the recession and the recovery.
In much of the country this spring, low interest rates, bidding wars and pent-up demand had sparked a real estate boom. In California, the median single-family home price hit a record $818,260, up nearly 40 percent since the start of the pandemic. Utah prices surged 30 percent during the same period. By June, economists were using words like “unprecedented” to describe the rise and speculating that in some markets the dream of homeownership might be forever out of reach for most middle-class Americans.