Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

AFFORDABLE HOUSING; A Shrinking Dream

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

AFFORDABLE HOUSING; A Shrinking Dream

Article excerpt

Note to readers: This page will be examining the issue of affordable housing today and tomorrow, and in continuing opinion pieces during 2006.

In the United States, owning your own house is essential to the American dream.

Home ownership establishes roots, which fosters participation in the community.

In recent years, the rate of home ownership has hit near record highs, fueled by low mortgage rates.

Despite that fact, housing affordability nationally dropped to the lowest level since 1991, reported the National Association of Realtors.

Florida is the only state where the rate of increase has accelerated every year since 2000, reported Florida TaxWatch.

Since the inception of price indexes, there has been no comparable five-year period when prices have increased as rapidly as 2000 to 2005.

Among Florida cities, Jacksonville's housing prices remain a bargain, which may have shielded serious affordability issues from the public's view.

Yet Northeast Florida is not immune from housing price fever.

From 2004 to 2005, the median sales price of homes in Jacksonville jumped 15 percent -- from $162,800 to $187,000, reported the Florida Association of Realtors. That's nowhere near the 38 percent jump in Ocala or the 40 percent jump in Naples.

Jacksonville still has serious housing needs. Many homes are out of range for the beginning nurse, teacher, police officer or reporter.

Many Jacksonville homeowners must spend an extraordinary amount of their income for housing.

Experts say a family should not spend more than 30 percent of its income for total housing costs. Yet, almost 20 percent of Jacksonville households do. In fact, 6 percent spend over 50 percent of their income for housing.

Consider:

-- Jacksonville's per capita income is under stress, while housing prices increase.

-- About 35,000 Duval County households spent more than 30 percent of their income on housing in 2002, reported the Shimberg Center for Affordable Housing at the University of Florida.

-- And 12,000 households spent more than 50 percent of their income on housing.

Here is what this means for families seeking their dream homes:

Homeless: At the lowest end of the income scale, for homeless families who are ready to leave the I.M. Sulzbacher Homeless Center, there often is no affordable rental unit for them, said CEO Sherry Burns. Some have to remain longer at the center till rental housing can be found.

Working poor: A wage earner needs to make $12.17 per hour ($26,416 a year) for a two-bedroom unit at $545 a month. …

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