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In past decade, more of us owned homes

Home ownership rates in almost all Tampa Bay counties have surged since 1990 - a key sign of prosperity. But gains were tougher for minorities.


© St. Petersburg Times, published July 25, 2001

Home ownership rates in almost all Tampa Bay counties have surged since 1990 -- a key sign of prosperity. But gains were tougher for minorities.

The Bonaccis literally are carrying the Pasco County real estate boom.

Cathy and Tony Bonacci are movers. She's in the office. He's on the truck.

In the 12 years they've been hauling people's belongings, they've never been so busy.

"With the interest rates and market right now, I've never seen anything like it," said Cathy Bonacci, who along with her husband owns Independent Movers, based in New Port Richey.

The blossoming of southern Pasco County from pastures to a three-bedroom, two-bath bastion of suburbia, has resulted in some of the strongest home ownership rates in the Tampa Bay area, according to U.S. Census figures released today.

Supported by strong national and local economies, 70 percent of Florida householders live in homes they own, an increase of 3 percentage points since 1990.

With the exception of Hillsborough County, ownership rates in Tampa Bay area counties -- Citrus, Hernando, Manatee, Pasco, Pinellas and Sarasota -- are even higher than the state average. Nationally, the home ownership rate is 66 percent.

"It's good news for Tampa Bay," said Dennis Colie, associate director for the Center for Economic Development Research at the University of South Florida. "High ownership rates indicate independence and some level of prosperity."

For most people, home equity is their single largest source of wealth. That financial rock is crucial to economic status, which has been linked to issues as diverse as school performance and health concerns.

While the numbers are up, some historic trends in minority home ownership remained intact.

Typically, home ownership rates among white householders have been between 15 and 25 percent higher than rates for African-Americans, Hispanics and Asians. That national trend resonated in Florida and the Tampa Bay area, according to census figures.

Statewide, 50 percent of African-Americans live in homes they own, as compared with 74 percent of white people, 60 percent of Asians and 56 percent of Hispanics, who can be of any race.

African-American home ownership rates in the seven-county Tampa Bay area were higher than average in the less urban counties of Hernando, Citrus and Pasco, and substantially below the state average in more densely populated Pinellas and Hillsborough counties. Some think this may be tied to real estate prices, which are lower in rural areas.

While Citrus County has relatively few African-Americans, it had the 11th-highest African-American home ownership rate in the state; Hernando County had the 16th-highest rate.

Hispanic home ownership rates in the Tampa Bay area were higher than the state average with the exception of Manatee and Pinellas counties, which were substantially lower. Hispanic activist Alex Emmanuelli attributes the Pinellas numbers to difficulty in getting mortgage financing.

Pasco County's home ownership rates outstripped the state averages in every category, likely a function of its explosive growth as a haven for families seeking lower housing costs.

Hernando County's home ownership rate of nearly 87 percent was the highest in the state.

Hillsborough County's home ownership rate remained substantially lower than the state average, which may be a function of its younger population.

Hillsborough's lower ownership rates may be attributable to a difference in the way the county has grown.

Estimates from the U.S. Department of Commerce show that from 1990 to 1999, Hillsborough County's per capita income grew substantially, almost 19 percent. When adjusted for inflation, the county had the 11th-highest per capita income growth in the state during that period. So, the relatively modest home ownership numbers do not mean the county has declined in affluence.

"I think we've become a real attractor for young people in the southeast looking for a first job," said Jim Hosler, research director for the Hillsborough County Planning Commission. "These huge apartment complexes going up next to these back-office operations probably have something to do with it. It's not like our housing costs are out of line."

Thriving urban areas typically have higher concentrations of rental units, said Anthony A. Polito, director of the Tampa Bay region for American Metro/Study Corp., which analyzes housing markets nationwide.

"When there's enough critical mass in a metropolitan area, it will support a rental market," Polito said.

Pinellas County's home ownership rate inched up about a percentage point, and rates for African-Americans, most of whom live in St. Petersburg, remained essentially flat. Tom de Yampert, the city's manager of housing programs, said the city's traditionally African-American neighborhoods are increasing so rapidly in value that it may be pricing out lower-income people.

The higher home ownership rates among Asians and Hispanics may have something to do with their family structures, de Yampert said. In Pinellas, they are frequently newcomers who are living in multigenerational households.

"The Asian and Hispanic families are much more cohesive," de Yampert said. "They're gathering their down payments from family members as opposed to African-Americans who may have been here for a long time and are more independent of their extended families."

The Pinellas numbers are affected by the county being largely built-out and increasing real estate values, said Colie, of USF. The trends of the last decade, and the resulting increases in home ownership, are a result of the state's strengthening economic underpinning.

"In the last part of the 1990s, we had a tremendously strong national economy that affected us here in Florida and Tampa Bay," Colie said. "Home ownership is a move toward greater wealth."

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