Jobs put homes out of reach

Many public servants can't afford house here

Survey lists teachers, police

Workers in 5 categories are priced out of market

August 01, 2004|By Sheeba Raj | Sheeba Raj,SUN STAFF

Anne Arundel County Police Officer Chris Linsenbigler and his expanding family tried to buy a larger home near his job.

With two toddlers and a baby on the way, Linsenbigler, 28, and his wife, Melissa, 30, are moving to a new four-bedroom, three-bathroom home in Shrewsbury, Pa., in the next two weeks. They paid $250,000 for the house after outgrowing their townhouse in Hanover, Md.

"It's a dream home for us - something that we couldn't afford in Anne Arundel," Linsenbigler said.

"A four-bedroom, single-family home is not a lot to ask for a family. We couldn't touch that home for $400,000 or less" in Anne Arundel County, he explained.

Steep increases in housing costs continued to outpace income growth last year, making it even more difficult for families to rent and buy homes in metropolitan Baltimore and nationwide, according to new data released last month.

The Center for Housing Policy, a Washington affordable-housing group, conducted the study of 136 housing markets to determine how workers in certain occupations fared last year.

As it has in past years, the group singled out janitors, sales clerks, elementary schoolteachers, nurses and police officers as the job categories most affected by the increases.

In Baltimore and five surrounding counties, the study found that a household must earn $63,581 a year to buy a $204,000 home - the median price last year. The income needed was 39 percent higher than in 2001 to buy a median-priced home, according to the study.

The center's study defines affordability in terms of a family that spends 30 percent or less of its income on housing.

Police officers in the Baltimore area earned a median $47,110 last year, 5 percent more than in 2001. The median annual income for elementary schoolteachers last year was $46,820 - down 2 percent from 2001. Janitors earned $16,340, which was 4 percent more than in 2001, according to the study.

In 2001, the study found that only elementary schoolteachers earned enough to buy a median-priced home out of the five job categories analyzed. But last year, none of those job categories provided sufficient income to buy a house.

In terms of renting in Baltimore, a family with one breadwinner would need to earn an hourly wage of $13.29 to afford to rent a one-bedroom apartment for $691 a month, the study found.

Police officers, teachers and nurses met that criterion, according to the data, but retail sales people earn an average of $8.23 and janitors an average of $7.86. The findings were similar in 2001.

Baltimore fares better than other areas in terms of the rental market, but not homeownership, said Robert J. Reid, president and chief executive officer of the Center for Housing Policy.

"This is the third annual report we've done on this, and no one has improved," Reid said of the other jurisdictions that were studied. "The core problem is that housing prices have risen considerably more than the salaries. Even three years ago, these people could not afford these homes, so this is a longstanding problem."

The affordability gap is a growing concern among Maryland real estate leaders, who worry that first-time buyers also are being priced out of purchasing a home.

The average first-time buyer in Maryland had less than 60 percent of the salary needed to purchase a home in May - a 5 percent decrease from April, according to the Maryland Association of Realtors. It was the lowest measure in the group's First-Time Homebuyer Affordability Index in more than four years.

Communities need to be concerned about this trend, said Barbara Lipman, research director for the Center for Housing Policy.

"It inhibits economic growth, because one of the top three factors that determine where companies locate is accessibility of labor force," Lipman said.

If employees cannot afford to live in an area, it could suffer economically, she said.

The people who provide the majority of community services - teachers, nurses, janitors, sales clerks and police officers - were the focus of the study because they often work in high-priced neighborhoods where they cannot afford to live. The study also provides costs for 59 other job categories at www.nhc.org.

A spokeswoman for Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. said the state is working to improve such statistics.

"We have a homeownership initiative, which provides low-interest loans and is targeted to work force citizens," said Elise A. Butler, chief of staff at the Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development.

That initiative, called More House 4 Less, provides up to $3,000 toward settlement fees. Nearly 1,300 low-interest loans have been made in Maryland since the program began in April last year. Most of the loans were made to residents of Baltimore City and Prince George's County.

"We're optimistic that through this program, we'll be able to increase homeownership in areas like Baltimore, where there's a plentiful supply of moderately priced homes," Butler said.

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