SAN FRANCISCO, April 24, 2002 (Associated Press) - Paced by Hispanics, homeownership rates rose for Californians during the 1990s, though costly real estate meant that owning a home remained a more elusive dream here than in most other states.
Across the state, nearly 57 percent of people owned the home where they lived in 2000 -- compared to 66 percent nationally. A decade earlier, the California rate stood at 56 percent -- the national average was 64 percent.
While California was losing ground to the rest of the country, Hispanics were gaining ground, according to Census Bureau figures released Wednesday. Homeownership rates rose among Asians, blacks and whites -- but the rise among Hispanics stood out.
In 2000, 44 percent of Hispanics in California owned their own homes -- up from 40 percent in 1990. Nationally, the Hispanic homeownership rate grew from 42 percent in 1990 to 46 percent.
The gains were most pronounced east of Los Angeles.
In Riverside and San Bernardino counties, nearly 60 percent of Hispanics owned their homes. Only the Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., area had a higher Hispanic homeownership rate than the San Bernardino-Riverside metro area, according to an analysis by demographer William H. Frey.
Economics have everything to do with it.
The median home price in San Francisco this February was $510,000 -- and only 28 percent of Hispanics owned a home there. In San Bernardino, the median price was $150,000, according to the California Association of Realtors.
Affordability is what brought Anna Aldana, 41, to Fontana. She bought her three-bedroom house for $93,000 in 1988.
"It is everybody's dream to own a house," said Aldana, who grew up in Los Angeles. "No one is above us, no one below us, and my daughters can ride their bikes out front."
Her parents were born in Mexico, but like many children of immigrants, Aldana assimilated into the U.S. economic mainstream more fully than her parents. She is a secretary by day, and works part-time at Wal-Mart at night to help support her two daughters.
Despite gains over the past decade, Hispanic and black homeownership rates are still too far below whites and Asians, said Manuel Pastor, an economist at the University of California, Santa Cruz.
"We kind of think of it as a critical shelter issue, but it's really a matter of intergenerational wealth transfer," Pastor said. "Home equity allows you to do things like borrow money to put your kids through college, or start a business."
The data also show a chasm between haves and have nots within the Asian population. Long-established groups such as Chinese and Filipinos had relatively high rates of homeownership, while refugees of the past two decades from Southeast Asia were worse off.
"There are a lot of challenges to finding jobs, to working the jobs, to getting enough credit to own a home, to keeping up with the credit," said Ghia Xiong, a Hmong community worker at the Fresno Center for New Americans who came to Fresno in 1982 and still rents a duplex.
Only 18 percent of California's Hmong -- a hill tribe that fled Laos after the Vietnam War -- own their own homes.
By contrast, Chinese homeownership stood at 63 percent statewide. The rates were above that average in wealthier areas such as Silicon Valley, and suburbs around major metro areas, as in Orange, Marin and Contra Costa counties.
Copyright 2002, The Associated Press