The county ranks fifth in the state in home ownership, a stat that matches its semi-rural lifestyle, officials say.
By JIM ROSS
© St. Petersburg Times, published July 25, 2001
Citrus County got older and its population grew during the 1990s. But one thing didn't change much at all: People who live here still are much more likely to own their homes than to rent them.
Almost 86 percent of the occupied housing units -- houses, mobile homes, condominiums and the like -- were filled by their owners, census 2000 figures showed.
Only four Florida counties registered a greater percentage of owner occupation. One of them was Hernando, which was tops in the state.
In 1990, only three Florida counties had greater percentages of owner occupation than Citrus.
For a much different situation, consider Alachua County, where the University of Florida supplies a never-ending stream of students who rent. There, owners filled only 55 percent of housing units -- the lowest percentage in Florida.
Joe Monroe, acting director of the county's housing office, said the Citrus figures jibe with conventional wisdom. Older people are more likely to own their homes, and 33 percent of Citrus residents are 65 or older. The trend is especially true in a retirement community like Citrus, where people owned homes elsewhere before they relocated here.
Still, 41 percent of all owner-occupied housing units were home to people age 65 and older, the census figures showed. That's down from 49 percent in 1990.
So the elderly population isn't solely responsible for the consistently high rate of owner occupancy. Experts say other factors appear to be at work.
For example: "The nation is pushing for home ownership," said Monroe, noting the proliferation of government and private-sector plans that help people choose homes and arrange financing.
The county offers a class for first-time home buyers. Two years ago, about 20 people attended each session; these days, each class has at least 35 participants and sometimes as many as 70.
"I think it's an education issue," Monroe said. "The awareness (of ownership benefits) is just higher."
Relatively low interest rates and a strong economy during the 1990s also helped people transition out of rentals and into home ownership. That was true in Florida and nationwide, according to Marc Smith, who is affiliated with the Shimberg Center for Affordable Housing at the University of Florida.
Another factor is that Citrus, while growing in population, remains semi-rural.
"It's typically the smaller, more rural counties that have the higher home ownership rates," Smith said. "In the smaller counties we don't find a lot of apartment complexes."
Then there's the flip side: Perhaps few people rent here because there aren't enough affordable, quality rental units available.
Kim Twiss, co-owner of Landmark Rentals in Inverness, said her property management business receives about 35 calls each week.
Her most popular units are condominiums that owners wish to rent out. Those generally start at $475 a month. Her cheapest rental, a one-bedroom cottage, goes for $350 a month.
"People move here from Orlando or Tampa and they expect apartment complexes. And they're just not here," Twiss said.
According to federal figures, Citrus County's per capita real income increased just 3.6 percent during the 1990s; only 10 of Florida's 67 counties performed worse. The per capita income in 1999 was $20,492.
The private sector has tried to change the rental landscape, with limited success. For example, a developer failed to persuade the County Commission to approve a proposed apartment complex in Beverly Hills.
The Citrus population grew 26 percent during the 1990s, from 93,515 to 118,085, according to the census. More of those new people were old, not young: The median age was 52.6, up from 50.8 a decade ago.
The number of black home owners increased 27 percent during the 1990s, compared with a 32 percent increase for white residents and a 63 percent increase for Hispanics, the census figures showed.