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Published: Sunday, 12/11/2011

Ownership of American dream still out of reach for many couples


Like many young married people, Steve and Logan Kinney dream of owning a home. So after several years of diligent saving, the couple, both teachers, scoured the listings in the Brooklyn neighborhood where they rented.

But before long, they realized that home ownership would mean a single room. And even that was a stretch.

So they broadened their search to seemingly more affordable areas: Jersey City, the Rockaways in Queens, and neighborhoods farther out in Brooklyn.

But with a budget of $250,000, their quest was over shortly after it began.

The Kinneys' predicament is not unusual for New York residents. Yes, prices have tumbled 32 percent from their peaks, according to Fiserv Case-Shiller, and housing is now more affordable across the nation.

But in their region, home ownership is out of reach for everyone but the most affluent.

When prices peaked, the median cost nationwide of a single-family home was $226,000, four times the median income. Since then prices have dropped to levels last seen in the mid-'90s: at $166,000, that's about 2.7 times the median income of $61,593, according to Fiserv.

But in Los Angeles, for example, the median-home price is about 5.9 times the median income, and in San Francisco it is 4.9 times median income. New York isn't far behind: The median home price is about 4.6 times the median income, in part because of foreign buyers who take advantage of a weaker dollar.

For many would-be buyers, that means it is simply more affordable to rent. But that can be frustrating for people who thought they had done everything right, except for choosing a higher-paying profession.

The Kinneys were considering a mortgage through the Federal Housing Administration's program, where government-insured loans permit borrowers to put as little as 3.5 percent down, but for now, they're back to watching their spending.

They rarely eat out, though they do splurge on organic produce.

Mr. Kinney has worn the same $20 sneakers for two years. They reward themselves with one vacation a year, which is typically financed with half of their tax refund. The other half is saved.

"There is something about that that makes you feel like you are not fully a member of society," Mr. Kinney said.

Meanwhile, they have found a two-bedroom rental that feels more like home, a few blocks from the sand and surf in the Rockaway Beach section of Queens. At $1,600, it costs the same as the dark basement studio they had rented in Brooklyn.

"Rockaway Beach is a little far out there," Ms. Kinney said of her three-hour round-trip commute, "but whenever I come home I will have the ocean at my door."

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