Hernando County: Homes 'R Us
By DAN DeWITT
BROOKSVILLE -- Some of the U.S. Census Bureau's new findings did not cause much of a sensation.
Hernando county has a large number of veterans, for example, and its residents tend to have more money and education than they did a decade ago but less than most other people in the state.
But one figure drew a lot of attention: 86.5 percent of the people in Hernando own rather than rent their homes, which tied with Sumter for the highest rate in Florida.
"It's a great number," said Gary Schraut, a Brooksville real estate broker.
"Homeownership is what we live for as Realtors."
The ownership statistic was included in several pages of new data released this week by the bureau. The numbers are estimates based on long questionnaires filled out by about one in six households nationwide. Their release is part of the continuing process of creating the complete demographic profile the census attempts to provide every decade.
"There's a lot of data here that can better help us plan our roads, better help us plan our community," said David Miles of the Hernando County Planning Department.
Schraut and some other real estate professionals pointed out the advantage of a high rate of homeownership.
"How wonderful to be a day care worker or a clerk in a store and to be able to buy a house," said Pat Fleck, a veteran real estate broker in Spring Hill.
"That is only going to make this area better. People have more pride when they own their own homes."
Miles said the figure is a product of several social and economic factors, the most crucial of which is generally low property values.
The median cost here was $87,300, nearly $20,000 less than the statewide figure, according to Census Bureau estimate. The county's largest subdivision, Spring Hill, is full of homes that are more than 20 years old and small by contemporary standards. Hernando also has 13,401 mobile homes, which represents 21.4 percent of its housing stock, nearly twice the statewide percentage.
"That's definitely going to inflate your ownership rate simply because it is a lot easier to own a $40,000 mobile home than it is a $120,000 block home," said Miles, who added that, based on county building permits, he thinks Hernando actually has about 1,000 more mobile homes than the Census Bureau estimated.
The ownership rate also indicates what developers of apartment complexes have been saying frequently in recent months: The county has a shortage of places to rent.
"We just didn't find a lot to compare to our property and that basically tells me there is not a lot of rental property there," said Michael Stefan, development manager for Richman Group of Florida Inc., which is pushing a controversial plan to build an affordable apartment complex in Hernando.
"You've seen apartment complexes cropping up all over the place, because for a long time there were no rentals," said Lisa Gurske, executive vice president of the Hernando County Association of Realtors.
The ownership figures were a small part of the recently released information, which included data on income, education, housing, military service and employment.
It helped build on previously released information about, for example, the age of Hernando County residents, 30.9 percent of whom are older than 65; that percentage is 17.9 percent statewide.
The newly released figures show that 23 percent of the county's residents are civilian veterans -- no longer in active military service -- compared to 15.3 percent statewide.
Hernando County's median income is below the state average of $38,819 but not as much as it was a decade ago.
Likewise, the county's level of education was higher in 2000 than in 1990, though it still lags behind most of the rest of the state.
In Florida, 22.3 percent of residents 25 and older have received a bachelor's degree or higher. In Hernando, that percentage is 12.7 percent -- about half the percentage of working-age adults who claim some sort of disability.
Hernando's population is still highly mobile; 70 percent were born in a different state, one of the highest rates in the state.
Also, 44 percent of county residents had moved in the previous five years. But that figure is slightly less than the state average and far less than it was here in 1990, when 57 percent of Hernando residents had moved in the past five years.
This reflects that the county settled somewhat in the 1990s after the explosive growth of the 1970s and '80s, Miles said. "This has become a more established community."
But the 2000 numbers also forecast the expected patterns of the next decade. Most of the new residents did not come from other states, as was true a decade ago, but from other counties in Florida.
With the completion of the Suncoast Parkway last year, Hernando County's population is expected to boom with transplants from Hillsborough and Pinellas as well as counties that are even more crowded and even farther south.
"There's been a shift," Gurske said. "We're even seeing a lot of people from South Florida, Fort Lauderdale and Dade County. It's wall-to-wall people down there, so this is the country to them."
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