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Fewer than 1 in 5 residents can afford a home in Bay Area [The Mercury News :: BC-REAL-AFFORDABILITY-BAYAREA:SJ]

The Bay Area continues to lead the state in shattered home-ownership dreams.

Record home prices and rising interest rates have pushed statewide home affordability rates to a 10-year-low. In the Bay Area, fewer than 1 in 5 residents can afford to buy into one of the nation's most expensive real estate markets, according to a study released Wednesday by the California Association of Realtors.

"It's not the worst I've ever seen, but it's pretty darn close," said Dave Walsh, vice president at Alain Pinel in San Jose. "It's a challenge for any segment of society."

A swirl of forces has made the region too pricey for even double-income families: a shortage of new housing, booming job growth bringing more professionals to Silicon Valley, and interest rates ticking up from recent lows.

The run-up in prices has proven a spectacular investment for homeowners, even as many newcomers feel locked out.

Median sale prices for Bay Area homes have increased every month over the previous year for a record six straight years. It's led to an exodus from the area - only to be replaced by even more newcomers - and calls for housing reform in Sacramento and in city councils across the region.

The CAR affordability index is based on a region's median household income and the median home sale price. It also assumes a 20 percent down payment and a mortgage rate at the national average.

Nationally, more than half of households can afford an average home priced at $269,000. It takes a household income of $57,000 to pay the mortgage and have enough left over for food, health care and other essentials.

In California, the percentage of residents able to buy a single family home has hit its lowest point - 26 percent - since the first quarter of 2008, when the residential housing industry was beset by inflated prices and the subprime mortgage crisis.

A typical state resident needs an annual income topping $125,000 to afford a median home priced at $596,000. In Los Angeles, about 3 in 10 households could afford to buy, while about 4 in 10 residents in the Inland Empire could make a purchase.

Bay Area residents find a much starker balance sheet. A household needs roughly $220,000 in income to afford a home at the median price of $1.04 million, according to CAR. After a down payment of more than $200,000, a typical new Bay Area homeowner would have a $5,500 monthly mortgage payment.

Five of the nine Bay Area counties became less affordable in the second quarter: Alameda, Contra Costa, Santa Clara, Solano and Sonoma. Higher wages improved the home buying environment in San Francisco and Marin counties, while the index remained steady in Napa and San Mateo counties.

Just 12 percent of Santa Cruz County residents could muster enough money to buy a home, the lowest rate in California. About 14 percent of residents in San Francisco and San Mateo counties could afford homes, while 16 percent of residents in Alameda and Santa Clara counties could.

Matt Rubenstein, a Danville-based agent, said the market remains tight, but his office has stayed busy. Many of his recent sales have come from repeat buyers using their home equity to buy a larger home - either by moving away from an expensive area or trading up from a condominium.

"Our area has gotten really expensive," said Rubenstein, who sells in Contra Costa County. But, compared to the Peninsula, he said, "there's still some really good values here."

A typical buyer in Santa Clara County needs to make about $300,000 to qualify for a mortgage. Walsh said that's a narrow market: "Two college-educated professionals holding two very successful jobs."

Unless the region builds more homes, Walsh said, a low affordability index may be common in the future. Blue collar workers, young professionals with student debt and nontech professionals will be squeezed out.

"We're at crisis levels now," Walsh said. "We must do something. We no longer have an option of just thinking about it."

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