Families with children are disappearing from Columbia, the town's annual household income has jumped $5,400, and the average adult has gone from thirtysomething to fortysomething in three years, according to a 1990 Rouse Co. demographic study.
Released Thursday to the Columbia Council, the study surprised some town leaders by showing that most Columbia homeowners are not "mortgage-poor," and in fact have much more disposable income than was previously thought.
Rouse Co. researchers sent about 5,000 questionnaires -- one to every fifth dwelling -- of which 1,717 (35 percent) were returned before the three-week deadlinelast June.
Although it is still called "New Town," Columbia is aging fast. The average age has jumped by fiveyears since the Rouse Co.'s 1987 survey, from 39 to 44.
Children have grown up and out of the typical single-family detached home. Thesurvey shows that 45 percent of those homes have no children under age 18, up from 37 percent in 1987.
"That flies in the face of the perception of the single-family home in Columbia . . . of a mom, dad,two kids, a BMW and a mini-van," said Edward A. Ely, vice president and director of land sales and marketing.
As residents aged, theirincomes also shot up, from a mean of $55,700 in 1987 to $61,100 lastyear.
"I knew it was larger, but I think this is larger than I had expected," said ColumbiaAssociation President Padraic M. Kennedy.
Ely said that income level puts Columbia on a par with neighboring Montgomery County and Northern Virginia's Fairfax County as one of the nation's most affluent areas.
Kennedy said he also was struck bythe survey's finding that Columbia residents are not heavily mortgaged and had more money to spend elsewhere.
The amount that people paid for housing, either in mortgage payments or rent, ranged from 14.4 percent of the income of single-family homeowners who bought before1985 to 21.8 percent of the income of single-family homeowners who bought in 1988 and of town house owners who bought in 1989.
The survey also found that:
* 76 percent of Columbia residents wereemployed in 1990, as compared with 73 percent in 1987. Fewer of them (35 percent) work in Howard County than in 1987 (40 percent). Only 11 percent work in the District of Columbia, while nearly 50 percent are almost evenly split between Baltimore City and Anne Arundel, Prince George's and Montgomery counties.
* 39 percent of Columbia residents moved to their present home from somewhere else in Columbia. About 26 percent of Columbia residents originally moved to Columbia from another state, while about 20 percent came from Baltimore City or BaltimoreCounty. Only 6 percent came from the District of Columbia or Northern Virginia.
Kennedy praised the survey as a planning tool but cautioned against forgetting the ideals the city was founded on.
"Whatwe can't do as a city is allow ourselves to be blinded by those statistics and not recognize that there is a significant need for affordable housing," Kennedy said. "We can't just think about what is there.We have to think about what should be there."
Ely, who presented the survey to the Columbia Council and two months earlier to ColumbiaAssociation staff, said it is designed to help many components of the company, from merchandising at The Mall in Columbia to designing new neighborhoods.