Census: In California, More Empty Houses, More Families "Doubling Up"

Census: In California, More Empty Houses, More Families "Doubling Up"

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The number of empty houses and rental units in California has jumped over the past decade, according to new Census data released Thursday—another sign of how the Great Recession and housing bust have continued to batter the nation’s largest state.

Some 8.1 percent of all housing units in the state were vacant in 2010, up 55 percent from 2000.

Meanwhile, the number of extended-family households jumped by 27 percent and average household size edged up slightly—an indication that many families are sharing their homes in part because young adults and elders can’t afford to live on their own.

While the American dream of homeownership is associated with California perhaps more than any other part of the country, the latest Census data show another reality. As demographers crunch the numbers over the next few days, the portrait that emerges of a state in crisis will be telling, says Hans Johnson, an expert in population and migration issues at the Public Policy Institute of California.

“What we get from the Census is the ability to look at what’s happening in very small geographic units, and the foreclosure crisis is very much a localized phenomenon,” he says.

Despite the huge housing boom that transformed much of the Central Valley and Inland Empire in recent years, the proportion of owner-occupied housing units actually dropped in 2010—55.9 percent, versus 56.9 percent in 2000. In the Census data released so far, only the District of Columbia (45.6 percent) and New York state (54.5 percent) have lower rates of owner-occupied housing than California.

In 2010, the homeowner vacancy rate in California was 2.1 percent, up 50 percent from 2000. The vacancy rate among rental units jumped even more. In 2010, some 6.3 percent of rental units in the state stood vacant, versus 3.7 percent in 2000—an increase of 70 percent.

"People are moving out of state or people are doubling up," said Richard Green, director of the Lusk Center for Real Estate at the University of Southern California.

Although the housing data for California were gloomier than for many other states, the numbers released Thursday—details of California’s population by race and ethnicity, age, gender, and marital status as well as housing—mirrored national trends in a number of key ways:

MORE ASIANS: While the increase in the Latino population has received the most attention in California and nationwide, the growth rate among Asian Americans has kept pace with or exceeded that of Latinos in much of the country. In California, the fastest growth was among Asian Indians (68 percent). The Vietnamese, Filipino and Korean communities each grew slightly more than 30 percent, versus 28 percent for the Chinese population. Japanese Americans, meanwhile, joined whites in losing population statewide. Chinese account for the largest segment of California’s Asian-American population (1.25 million people), followed closely by Filipinos (1.2 million).

BIGGER HOUSEHOLDS: In California, as many other parts of the country, the average household size is increasing. According to researchers, more young adults are living with their parents, including "boomerang kids" who return after college. The rapid growth in immigrants also affects household size, because many choose to live with their relatives even after they marry.

GETTING OLDER: The aging of the nation’s 77 million Baby Boomers is driving the trend in most states. In California, the median age was 35.2 years in 2010, compared with 33.3 in 2000. The state's elderly population—people aged 85 and older—rose by 41 percent from 2000.