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HOMEOWNERSHIP rates up in most of country


WASHINGTON (AP) _ The booming economy of the 1990s sparked a rise in homeownership in most states as more people staked a claim on the American dream.

Nationally, 66.2 percent, or 69.8 million of the 105.5 million occupied housing units in 2000, were occupied by the owner, data from the latest census shows. That was up from 64.2 percent of nation's 91.9 million occupied housing units in 1990.

States and communities in the fast-growing West especially benefited from the housing boom. For instance, the homeownership rate in Nevada surged from 54.8 percent in 1990 to 60.1 percent in 2000, one of the biggest increases in the country.

The national homeownership rate is at its highest point since the turn of the 20th century, according to an analysis by the nonprofit Fannie Mae Foundation of census figures between 1900 and 2000.

Additionally, the 2 percentage point increase during the 1990s was the largest in any decade since a 6.9 percentage point post-World War II jump in the 1950s, the foundation said.

``We've known that the 1990s was a good decade for homeownership in America,'' said Stacey Davis, president of the foundation, ``but what this new research shows is how strong and widespread the homeownership expansion was.''

Of the 50 states and the District of Columbia, only Arkansas saw a decline in its homeownership rate, down slightly from 69.6 percent to 69.4 percent.

Deborah Hoofman, president of the Home Builders Association of Greater Little Rock in Little Rock, Ark., said her area experienced a slowdown in construction starts in the mid-1990s before turning around late in the decade.

Hoofman was optimistic about the future. ``It's a good time to buy a new home ... as long as the interest rates hold,'' she said.

Among other findings from the 2000 count:

_Alaska's 6.4 percentage point increase in homeownership rate to 62.5 percent was the largest statewide jump in the country.

_The highest overall homeownership rate was in West Virginia, where 75.2 percent of the occupied housing units were lived in by the owner.

_North Las Vegas, Nev., had one of the highest increases among cities with over 100,000 residents, rising 20.2 percentage points to 70.1 in 2000.

While the trends are encouraging, advocates of minority homeownership are waiting for more detailed national figures to come out before pronouncing the 1990s a success.

All 50 states are expected to get breakdowns of homeownership by race and ethnicity by late August.

``There have been so many efforts since 1990 to encourage minorities to buy homes, so much more so than in the past decades,'' said Jordan Ash, regional director with the Association for Community Organizations for Reform Now's housing division in Minneapolis.

Though there should be increases among all minority groups, the gap between whites and minorities will still be very large, Ash said.

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