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Face of home ownership is changing

Minority home ownership shot up in Hillsborough County by 79 percent in the past decade, according to census data. Many were first-time buyers.


© St. Petersburg Times, published July 25, 2001

Minority home ownership shot up in Hillsborough County by 79 percent in the past decade, according to census data. Many were first-time buyers.

TEMPLE TERRACE -- Jennifer Sims takes good care of her new house. On sunny afternoons, she's in the front yard pulling weeds. She has turned her one-car garage into a shop, with tools hanging on the walls and sawdust on the concrete floor.

Sims has plans, too: sage-green paint for the living room and chair-molding in the four bedrooms.

She bought her cream-colored, stucco house in March, and it's all hers as long as she keeps up the $757 monthly payments. After spending most of her adult life renting small apartments with her three girls, Sims was ready to have a place of her own.

"It's mine," said Sims, a 37-year-old nurse who mainly works nights. "I can do what I want with it. I can tear the walls down, not that I would."

Sims, who is African-American, is one of the first-time home buyers changing the look of home ownership in Hillsborough.

According to new U.S. Census data, minority home ownership shot up in the county by 79 percent the past decade. Hispanics purchased 10,555 homes, African-Americans purchased 7,384 and Asians purchased 2,143. Most of the homes were in the suburbs.

The minority homeowners share a few common traits: They usually have rented their whole lives and are now paying for their own houses for the first time; they're two-income families that fall within 80 percent of the median income for their family's size; they have financed through government-subsidized programs that put thousands of lower- to middle-income families in their own homes for the first time.

The numbers are gratifying to county and city administrators who credit population growth and government programs for the new color of Hillsborough County home ownership.

Don Shea, interim director of the county's community improvement department, said one county program targeted farm workers, which has augmented the number of new Hispanic home buyers.

"They're transitioning from the traditional farmworker role into a service industry role," Shea said. "None of these programs are supposed to target minorities -- they target income groups. It just happens that these minorities fall into those categories."

Realtors are loath to talk about race and home ownership, saying money is green regardless of the color of the person spending it. But those selling affordable housing in Hillsborough aren't color blind. Mike Morina, director of the non-profit Alliance for Affordable Housing, said 88 percent of the houses in Sims' Temple Terrace subdivision were sold to minorities. The number of Temple Terrace's minority home owners went up 174 percent in 10 years, from 177 in 1990 to 485 in 2000.

"They're middle class and looking for a better lifestyle for themselves and their kids," Morina said. "Basically what we've found is that there are a lot of folks out there that can qualify for a mortgage but they don't have the down payment or closing costs, which is what we can do for them." Numbers for first-time home buyers in the mid-price market have increased so much that real estate agents are scraping for houses to sell, said Don Kuder, a real estate agent with Murphy-Matthews and Associates.

As for Sims, she's in Temple Terrace to stay, at least for the time being.

"I don't see myself leaving this house any time soon," she said. "I have too much left to do to it."

- Cate Doty can be reached at (727) 893-8850.

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