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Ownership increases along with population

An already high rate grows to 82 percent, 10th statewide and well above the state and national averages, as Pasco urbanizes.


© St. Petersburg Times, published July 25, 2001

An already high rate grows to 82 percent, 10th statewide and well above the state and national averages, as Pasco urbanizes.

When Nancy Ross bought a house in Land O'Lakes in 1972, she had to leave the county to buy milk.

Now the 51-year-old can drive to a number of nearby grocery stores, as well as other amenities. On Tuesday afternoon, she was at Mel's Barber Shop at State Road 54 and U.S. 41, letting Shawna Struble take a little more off the side.

"Urban spread is coming anyway," she said, shrugging at the amount of development that has come to her area in the 30 years she has owned a few different homes there. "You can't say nobody else can move here."

And move they did.

According to new information from the 2000 Census released today, the flood of people who came here during the 1990s far more often than not bought their piece of Pasco.

Even in a county with an already high ownership rate, a decade of more -- more people, more houses, more schools, more shopping centers, more roads, more traffic -- saw even more people owning.

More than the state and national averages.

In all, 82 percent of Pasco homes -- houses, condos, townhouses, mobile homes -- were owned by the people living there, the Census Bureau reported.

That rate ranks Pasco 10th in the state (the county was seventh in the last census, but with a lower ownership rate of 80 percent). Hernando County to the north topped the state with an 87 percent ownership rate. Citrus was fifth with 86 percent.

Statewide, 70 percent of all homes were owned, compared with 66 percent nationwide in 2000.

In broad strokes, the 1990s in Pasco meant more than 60,000 new people moving into more than 25,000 new homes -- called housing units by the Census Bureau. More of them were young, more had children, more lived alone and there were more women than men.

But a closer look at the numbers shows that Pasco is changing in three different directions:

The new suburban homes around Land O'Lakes tripled in number, as did the population, and the vast majority were homes owned by the people moving there. Even with 50 percent more rental units in Land O'Lakes by 2000, the slice of the total homes that were rented dropped 10 percent.

The old neighborhoods, in areas such as Holiday, Beacon Square, Elfers and Jasmine Estates, once owned by retirees, increasingly were rented out to young, working families. Median ages plunged a whopping 15 years. New homes were as scarce as new space to put them, and meager 2 percent increases in ownership were overshadowed by anywhere from a 12 percent to a 40 percent increase in rented homes.

The four largest cities in Pasco -- Port Richey, New Port Richey, Zephyrhills and Dade City -- saw modest growth compared with the wild expansion of the suburbs. Zephyrhills added the most new housing units with a 31 percent gain. But the four cities also consistently maintained some of the largest shares of rental housing, ranging from Zephyrhills' 31 percent to Dade City's 43 percent.

And each wants what the other has.

The cities' political leaders talk frequently about renewal efforts so their housing values -- taxable values -- rival those of the new suburbs in Land O'Lakes and Wesley Chapel. And now, a group in Land O'Lakes is pushing a community effort to establish a town center, much like the traditional town model (think Dade City).

Suburban development is driven largely by three factors, said Joe DeSalvo, a professor of economics at the University of South Florida: income growth, population growth and a decrease in transportation costs.

Pasco had a 26 percent increase in population in the 1990s; Commerce Department figures show a 17 percent increase in inflation-adjusted incomes from 1990 to 1999, the most recent year for which figures were available, and more roads were widened while the newly opened Suncoast Parkway was built.

"If you believe growth is good ... then yeah, this is good," DeSalvo said. "If you lament that Pasco is losing its rural flavor, then it's bad."

With the combination of those three factors, and when you add in very low interest rates, the result is what west Pasco real estate agent Mark Swartsel called "the hottest real estate market that I've ever experienced."

Demand is exceeding supply, and Swartsel said builders have noticed. New development in central Pasco is an example. And, he said, the buyers he's helping are much younger than they used to be.

"Our population is becoming younger, and it seems the percentage of retirees is becoming less," he said.

In fact, the census shows that in 1990, more than half of all housing units were owned by someone 65 and older. In 2000, it was 36 percent.

Ray Messer knows. Messer is the president of the Beacon Square Civic Association, in one of the established neighborhoods in west Pasco that underwent a tremendous drop in median age. The 61-year-old said it's obvious there are more young people in Beacon Square by the number of school buses driving through the neighborhood.

"To a certain extent, we need the younger people," he said. "We need the younger people, and that gets the older people feeling younger."

As for the cities in Pasco holding more renters than other places, there are two theories. In east Pasco, real estate agent and lifelong resident Lewis Abraham said the larger number of renters was because of employment.

"There's more of a working class over here," he said.

Port Richey City Manager Vince Lupo said what west Pasco cities see is typical of most of Florida: winter residents.

A good number of Port Richey renters, he explained, spend only half the year there -- the months when it's really cold at their other homes.

For its size, Port Richey saw a surprising rise in the number of housing units, with a 23 percent increase, or 266 units. Of those units, the numbers that went to renters and owners split right down the middle.

Lupo noted that the new construction going on now in Port Richey is very high-dollar waterfront development. For the city's bottom line, whether they are owned or rented doesn't matter.

"They are owned by somebody who's paying upscale prices," he said.

- Staff writer Matthew Waite can be reached in west Pasco at 869-6247 or toll-free at (800) 333-7505, ext. 6247.

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