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Through the Roof : While household income rose 96% in California from 1980 to 1990--from $18,243 to $35,798--an increasing amount of that money went to pay for shelter. Mortgage payments climbed 162% during the decade, and rent jumped 119%. As a result, more families spent more than 25% of their income on housing--the standard measure of affordability. The added costs were also a factor in the growing size of a household as residents doubled up with roommates and relatives. : New Figures Show How Housing Prices Affect Buyers, Renters


For most of the past decade, Beverly Nuffer lived alone in Fullerton. But recently, Nuffer's 39-year-old son, David--joining the ranks of state residents overwhelmed by the skyrocketing cost of housing in California--returned to share her three-bedroom house.

"Apartments are just too costly these days," Beverly Nuffer said, noting that her son has lived with roommates just about all his adult life because of the high cost of housing in the state. "It takes a lot of money to live on your own."

For many Californians, finding shelter the past decade has meant doubling up with friends or moving in with relatives as soaring housing costs claimed a bigger chunk of income.

According to a recent Census Bureau report, median California household income rose 96% to $35,798 between 1980 and 1990. By contrast, the median mortgage payment in the state jumped 162% and the median monthly rent 119%.

While the median California mortgage--which includes real estate taxes, insurance, utilities and monthly condominium fees--was $1,077 in 1990, the national median stood at $702. California's median rent was $620, compared to a nationwide median of $424. (The median figure means that half of all rents or homes in the category are higher and half lower than the amount shown. The median value is usually lower than the average value.)

As a result of the big increase in housing costs, a growing number of California families spent a quarter or more of their income on housing--a commonly used measure of affordability.

"You've got a situation now where people can't afford to go out and get a place of their own; in fact, many people are moving back home with their parents," said Joseph Carreras, acting housing program manager for the Southern California Assn. of Governments, a regional planning body in Los Angeles.

The doubling up at home is evident even in the priciest communities.

In Ventura County, one of the nation's wealthiest, the median household of three people in 198 was already well above the national median of 2.75. Yet the median household size grew slightly to 3.02 people by 1990 as the county's median home value more than tripled to $245,300 during the decade.

Household sizes rose more dramatically in Los Angeles and Orange counties, where the median Los Angeles home value increased to $226,400 from $88,019 in 1980 and the median Orange County home value to $252,700 from $108,138. The rise in home values during the decade coincided with an 8.2% jump in the median household size in Los Angeles County--to 2.91 people--and a 3.2% increase in Orange County--to 2.87 people per household.

Still, state residents--particularly those in fast-growing Southern California--enjoyed more modern accommodations than the average American as builders added 2.1 million housing units in the state during the decade.

Riverside County, the nation's fastest-growing county, led the construction boom, erecting nearly half of its total housing units between 1980 and March, 1990, according to the Census Bureau.

Despite the 1980s construction boom, builders didn't come close to satisfying housing demand. California's exploding population, which grew by slightly more than 6 million people to 29,760,021, created such overcrowded housing conditions that local lawmakers from Santa Ana to Dana Point tried to impose legal limits on the number of people who may live in each unit.

"Everybody likes to write articles about how Joe and Mary are moving to Oregon and California is losing all its business and people to other states--well it's just not happening," said James Z. Pugash, executive vice president of Hearthstone Advisors, a San Francisco-based real estate investment firm. "The rate of growth may be slowing," but the state's population swelled through the 1980s and continues to grow and support high home values, Pugash said.

If the 1980s were kind to anyone, it was to residents lucky enough to buy a home at the beginning of the decade.

"It was a stretch to buy our home in May, 1980--we had to borrow from relatives and everything; but it has been the best investment we ever made," said Barbara Williams, a Placentia businesswoman who is also a member of the Placentia Yorba Linda school board. She estimates that her four-bedroom home is worth more than two times what it cost in 1980.

As the decade wore on, however, it took more aggressive economic sacrifices for most Californians to keep a roof over their heads.

Robert S. Bruchmann suffered a "big shock" when he moved his family to Southern California from Tennessee in 1983 and went house hunting.

"We had a 4,800-square-foot home on 2.5 acres in Tennessee that we sold for $121,000," explained Bruchmann, vice president of the Newport Beach construction consulting firm Hill International Inc. "We moved into a home (in Orange County) that was less than half that size but cost twice the money."

Trading up was even more daunting, said Bruchmann, who sold his first California house and now owns two.

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