The financial squeeze on Americans tightened over the past decade as housing expenses — everything from mortgage payments and rent...
LOS ANGELES — The financial squeeze on Americans tightened over the past decade as housing expenses — everything from mortgage payments and rent to utilities and insurance — far outpaced the growth in incomes, a new study shows.
Overall, yearly housing costs increased by an average of $5,314, or nearly 65 percent, between 1996 and 2006, according to the report to be released today by the Center for Housing Policy.
“There are a lot of daily challenges that Americans are facing in meeting this full array of housing expenses, and incomes just haven’t risen as much to be able to allow people to afford it,” said Maya Brennan, who co-authored the study.
In 2007, more than 7.5 million people — almost 15 percent of U.S. homeowners with a mortgage — were spending half of their income or more on their mortgage, property taxes and insurance, according to U.S. Census data released last month. That is up from nearly 7.1 million the previous year, according to an analysis by The Associated Press.
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Traditionally, the government and most lenders considered a homeowner spending 30 percent or more of their income on housing to be financially burdened. But that definition now covers almost 38 percent of U.S. homeowners with a mortgage — 19 million of them.
In the study reported today, researchers calculated housing expenses by tallying mortgage or rent plus the cost of utilities, property taxes, insurance, maintenance and other costs between 1996 and 2006.
Telephone costs were seen as mostly discretionary and left out.
Homeowners, who often pay a wider variety of utilities than renters, saw their utility bills jump 43 percent, with fuel oil and natural gas behind much of the increases.
Homeowners’ housing expenses overall increased 66 percent, while renters’ household expenses rose by 51 percent.
Incomes did not begin to keep pace, climbing 36.3 percent and 31.4 percent for homeowners and renters, respectively.
That’s in contrast to the 1990s, when housing costs increased less rapidly than incomes, said Edward Wolff, professor of economics at New York University.
The median family income last year was below less in purchasing power than what it was in 2000, in part because wages, when adjusted for inflation, have declined, Wolff said.
Apartment expenses ate up more than 29 percent of renters’ income in 2006, up from almost 26 percent a decade earlier. Rental costs climbed 51 percent.
But the hit to the wallet varied dramatically among cities.
In Los Angeles, for example, the fair-market rent for a two-bedroom unit jumped nearly 40 percent and was $1,189 by 2006. In Boston, it rose nearly 64 percent to $1,324.