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5/28/02 : The following was published by The Herald last Friday that should be of interest to one and all in case you missed it.

Home Costs Outpace Income 2000, Census Shows Hike in Owner Burden
By Tim Henderson, Andrea Elliott and William Yardley

Incomes rose but housing costs rose much more in Miami-Dade and Broward counties in the decade from 1990 to 2000, confronting South Florida with what experts say is an inevitable transformation mirroring major metropolitan areas nationwide.

''I think most of us always thought of Florida as a fairly affordable housing state,'' said Chase Burritt, a Miami-based partner in the real estate services division of Ernst & Young. ``Now may be a sea change.''

Figures from the 2000 Census released Thursday show wide income and housing disparity in the region near the end of the 1990s economic boom times two years ago, when the survey was taken.

Florida City and much of South Miami-Dade, hammered by Hurricane Andrew, suffered a serious economic decline, as did the suburbs just northwest of Fort Lauderdale. Prosperous cities, including Key Biscayne, Coral Gables, Wilton Manors and Cooper City, became more affluent.

But regardless of income fluctuation, one consistent pattern, from Naranja to North Miami to Miramar, showed homeowners -- not necessarily renters -- devoting more personal income toward housing in 2000 than a decade earlier and far more than statewide.

Experts said the change is a development that can portend trouble but also may reflect changing priorities for a new generation of strivers.

Miami-Dade and Broward trailed the state in median income growth -- income growth was 3 percent in Miami-Dade, 5 percent in Broward and 9 percent statewide -- but exceeded the state increase in median home value -- a 14 percent rise in Miami-Dade, 12 in Broward and 8 in Florida overall, with all figures adjusted for inflation. A median figure is a midpoint.

''It's just a maturation process, just like all these other entry cities -- New York, San Antonio, San Diego, San Francisco,'' Burritt said. ``We're doomed and blessed. Doomed because, as the city grows, there's more demand created [driving up prices]. But then you're blessed because, once you're into the housing game, you're almost always guaranteed a better price next year.''

Two key South Florida groups left out of the median home value for this release: residents who own condominiums and mobile homes. Those will be included in a more detailed census release due this summer.

MARKET STRONG

Michael Y. Cannon, managing director of Integra Realty Resources-AREEA South Florida, said the condo market has risen strongly for several years running. ''The South Florida condominium and housing market is probably the best housing market in the country, both in dollar volume and in sales volume,'' Cannon said.

The newly released figures are part of a comprehensive set of data collected on the 2000 Census long form, a detailed questionnaire sent to one of every six households that asked questions about income, household structure, ancestry, education level, employment, commutes and more.

Among the other findings reported in the current release:

The city of Miami, regularly atop poverty lists for big cities, saw a small decline in the percentage of residents living below poverty, from 31 to 28 percent. A separate census survey, released last fall and based on a different information-collecting method, showed city poverty as the worst nationwide, with a 32 percent rate.

68 percent of Miami-Dade residents older than 25 graduated from high school, 22 percent earned a bachelor's degree or higher. In Broward, 82 percent graduated from high school, 25 percent received a bachelor's or higher. Statewide, 80 percent graduated from high school, 22 percent received a bachelor's or higher.

Fifty-eight percent of Coral Gables residents over 25 earned a bachelor's degree or higher. In Opa-locka and Naranja, the number was 5.

The average work commute was 30 minutes in Miami-Dade, 27 in Broward and 26 statewide. Kendall and Pembroke Pines, popular and sometimes portrayed as competing suburbs, showed identical commute times: 32 minutes.

Of the 19,367 people in Miami-Dade who walked to work, 21 percent lived in Miami Beach.

FEDERAL FORMULA

The housing cost dilemma is often gauged using a federally determined formula that regards as a ''cost burden'' housing expenses that exceed 30 percent of income. Costs over 50 percent of income are considered a severe burden.

Experts disagree over how rigidly the thresholds should be used as guides, and several said there is evidence that the 30 percent threshold is increasingly less relevant.

''There are a lot of people who are paying 30 to 35 percent these days, and that's a conscious decision,'' said Bill O'Dell of the University of Florida's Shimberg Center for Affordable Housing.

But getting in, and staying in, is becoming more of a challenge for some. For Isabel and Juan Lopez, what they could not afford in Kendall they found in Naranja, a part-suburban, part-poverty-shattered community in South Miami-Dade.

In 1990, the poverty rate in Naranja was 18 percent. Two years later, Hurricane Andrew rendered the area flat and, by 2000, the Naranja poverty rate was 50 percent.

The year after Andrew, the Lopezes bought the first in a row of new homes on the resurrected Southwest 253rd Terrace. The couple, Cuban-American parents of three children, paid $89,000, a stretch they could manage on two moderate salaries.

Then a disability forced Juan Lopez to quit his truck-driving job. The Lopezes refinanced the yellow cement block house, but Isabel Lopez -- who earns $35,000 as a call center supervisor -- struggles to pay the yearly $8,705 mortgage, property tax and insurance. On her street, she is not alone in her dilemma.

''Everybody lives like that,'' she said. ``You live with your kids in a nice area and you try to provide them with that, but it's not easy.''

Further north, in more urban North Miami, the percentage of homeowners spending more than 35 percent of their income on housing grew from 22 percent in 1990 to 37 percent in 2000 -- the highest homeowner cost burden among Florida cities with more than 50,000 people.

At the same time, the city saw a tremendous demographic change, losing many longtime residents and gaining many new West Indian and Haitian immigrants. Median income dropped 8 percent.

In the Broward city of Miramar, median income rose 8 percent, almost as fast as the state increase, but the cost burden increased from 21 percent of homeowners to 28 percent.

Kevin Burden is among the 28 percent of Miramar homeowners who now spend more than a third of their income on living costs. Burden, 33, saved $10,000 as a renter before choosing his plot of land in the Monarch Lakes subdivision.

''The floor plans were very nice,'' said Burden, a corrections officer who earns roughly $50,000 a year. Burden expects to make his $1,600 monthly mortgage payment for the next 30 years.

''I live within my means,'' he said, as his wife and newborn rested inside. ``Most people feel they can't afford a house like this so they refuse to go out and try.''

LOW WAGES FAULTED

Low wages are one of the factors that economic development supporters say contributes to South Florida's relatively high number of people with housing cost burdens.

John Cordrey, senior vice president for research at the Beacon Council economic development group in Miami, said the group is ``focusing on diversifying our economy, trying to attract businesses that have a stable workforce.''``We're going to try to attract regional offices, bio-medical, [information technology], those that consistently have average income in the $35,000 to $40,000 range compared to $20,000 to $25,000.''

Cordrey said the group's surveys of existing businesses in the region, including those that want to stay and expand, have begun showing concern over whether employees can find appealing and affordable housing.

But University of Miami geographer Thomas Boswell, citing earlier census reports based on broad nationwide samples, said the area is experiencing a nationwide trend in which Americans in general are willing to spend more of their income to buy homes.''Americans are extending themselves more with bigger mortgages,'' he said, ``just taking more of a risk in wanting a bigger, better house.''