- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 25, 2008

MIAMI

Al Ray is so strapped for cash that the only time he eats out is on Wednesday or Sunday, when the local McDonald’s sells hamburgers for 49 cents.

Mr. Ray lost his engineering job last November and has been working as a high school tutor, scratching out about $1,000 a month — if he’s lucky. He struggled to make his $1,400 monthly mortgage payment and $330 monthly homeowners’ association fee until May, when he stopped paying.

Mr. Ray, 44, is looking for work and renting out a room in his two-bedroom condo in Davie, Fla., for $500, but his monthly income doesn’t match his expenses and he’s facing foreclosure.

“I barely have money to survive,” he said.

Mr. Ray is one of more than 7.5 million people — almost 15 percent of American homeowners with a mortgage — who are spending half of their income or more on housing costs, according to 2007 data released Tuesday by the U.S. Census Bureau. That is up from nearly 7.1 million the previous year.

Traditionally, the government and most lenders consider a homeowner spending 30 percent or more of their income on housing costs to be financially burdened. But that definition now covers almost 38 percent of American homeowners with a mortgage - 19 million of them.

Though home prices have fallen this year, many working families still cannot afford to buy a home in the most expensive markets where home prices tripled during the boom.

“We had a bubble,” said Dean Baker, co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington. “This is a case where we absolutely want the market to adjust.”

The data underscore the serious affordability problems in this country and highlight how the slightest financial problem — from a lost job to higher gas prices or insurance premiums — can put a family behind on their mortgages and into the realm of foreclosure.

When home prices fell in the early 1990s, borrowers had more equity in their homes and were able to escape foreclosure. But now, an estimated 10 million homeowners owe more on their mortgages than their homes are worth, according to Moody’s economy.com.

More than 4 million homeowners were at least one month behind on their loans at the end of June, and almost 500,000 had started the foreclosure process, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association.

Cascading foreclosures over the past two years created a domino effect in the lending industry, undermining investor confidence and forcing the Bush administration to announce the greatest rescue package and market intervention since the Great Depression.

In San Francisco, more than one in five homeowners with a mortgage spends half or more of their income on housing.

That’s also true in 13 more of the largest 100 metropolitan areas analyzed by the Associated Press. Other places include Californian metro areas of Stockton, Los Angeles, Riverside, Oxnard-Thousand Oaks, San Francisco, and San Diego. Also at the top are the Fort Myers, Sarasota and Orlando metro areas in Florida, and New York-Northern New Jersey-Long Island.

But the most cost-burdened homeowners in the country live the Miami-Fort Lauderdale-Miami Beach metro area - with 58 percent of homeowners spending 30 percent of their income on housing costs, and 29 percent spending half of their income or more on housing.


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