The income required to buy a median-priced home has dropped in many markets, though high housing costs have put home ownership out of reach for many workers in high-growth occupations, according to a study released this week by a housing research center.

Workers in the five highest-growth occupations — including registered nurses, retail salespersons, customer service representatives, food preparation workers and office clerks — cannot afford to buy a typical home in most of the 201 metro areas studied, according to the Center for Housing Research. The center, which receives financial support from Bank of America, the Fannie Mae Foundation, Freddie Mac, Merrill Lynch Community Development Co. LLC, and other organizations, is an affiliate of the National Housing Conference.

The “Paycheck to Paycheck: Wages and the Cost of Housing in America” study examines housing costs and wages for workers in 60 occupations.

“Even registered nurses … are unable to purchase a median-priced home in 108 of the markets,” which represents a slight improvement compared to 114 unaffordable metro area housing markets in 2006. Registered nurses were the highest paid among the five high-growth occupations.

Customer service representatives, who were next on the list, cannot afford to buy a home in 185 of the studied markets. Retail salespersons and food preparation workers, meanwhile, are priced out of every housing market studied, while office clerks are priced out of buying a home in 196 of 201 markets studied.

A total of six housing markets became newly affordable to registered nurses in 2007 compared to 2006, while four of the studied markets became newly affordable for customer service representatives and three markets became newly affordable to office clerks.

As affordability improved in the housing market, rental markets were more likely to grow unaffordable from 2006 to 2007, according to the report. Forty-eight markets became newly unaffordable to retail salespersons in 2007 compared to 2006, with eight markets newly unaffordable to customer service representatives and 11 markets newly unaffordable for office clerks.

Prospective home buyers in Birmingham, Ala., needed an 18.95 percent raise in income to qualify to purchase a median-priced home in that market area in 2007 compared to 2006. Next on the list was Buffalo, N.Y., which required an additional 10.53 percent in income; Provo-Orem, Utah, where buyers needed 9.33 percent more income; Ogden, Utah, at 6.58 percent; and Dayton, Ohio, at 5.49 percent.

At the other end of the scale, prospective buyers could qualify to buy a median-priced home in Merced, Calif., with 26.15 percent less income in 2007 than they needed in 2006. In Stockton, Calif., that amount was 23.54 percent less; Modesto, Calif., 23.1 percent less; Yuba City, 16.87 percent less; and Salinas, Calif., 16.66 percent less. Nine of the 10 markets that saw the largest dip in the amount of income required to qualify for a home purchase are in California — the other market was Washington, D.C.

Renters in West Palm Beach, Fla., needed a 16.03 percent raise in income in third-quarter 2007 to pay for a two-bedroom rental property at fair value compared to the prior year, according to the study. Next on the list was Fort Lauderdale, Fla., at 15.7 percent; San Diego, Calif., at 13.15 percent; Miami, at 11.75 percent; and Dallas, at 8.87 percent.

Rental costs declined 0.95 percent in Baltimore in third-quarter 2007 compared to the prior year, according to the study, while increasing 0.35 percent in Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minn.; 0.86 percent in San Jose, Calif.; 0.97 percent in Oakland, Calif.; and 0.98 percent in San Francisco.

San Francisco ranked as the most expensive market to own a home among the group of 201 studied metro areas, with a median home price of $770,000. Next on the list was San Jose, Calif., at $649,000; Santa Cruz, Calif., at $630,000; and Napa and Santa Ana, Calif., at $585,000.

Lima, Ohio, and Davenport, Iowa, tied for the most affordable markets, with a median home price of $87,000, followed by Springfield, Ohio, and Bay City, Mich., at $88,000; and Youngstown, Ohio, and Battle Creek, Mich., at $89,000.

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