The Census Bureau reported this week that 42 percent of Evanston homeowners with mortgages spent 30 percent or more of their household income on housing last year.

Homeowners in Chicago with mortgages were stretched even further — 50 percent of them spent more than 30 percent of their income on housing.

For owners without mortgages the figures were 32 percent in Evanston and 23 percent in Chicago. Among renters 55 percent in Evanston and 51 percent in Chicago crossed that spending threshhold.

Because of a change in the way the census reports data, it was not possible to reliably determine how much the cost burden on homeowners in Evanston has changed since the 2000 census.

In 2000 the mortgage burden numbers included only owners of single family homes, while the figures released this week for 2005 combine single family homes and condominiums, which are generally lower priced.

But for areas where single-family homes dominate, the trend across the nation was clearly toward owners having to stretch further to meet housing costs than they did five years ago.

Nearly all Evanston homeowners who made less than $20,000 a year faced housing costs over 30 percent of income. The percentages decline as incomes rise. But even at the $50,000 to $74,999 a year level just over half are living above the housing cost threshhold.

High housing costs compared to income levels have become common across the country as housing prices have risen substantially faster than wages in recent years.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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