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5/24/02 - Miami Herald
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.
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
In Monroe County, incomes rose by 11 percent, but the median home value jumped
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.''