BUSINESS

U.S. home ownership rate falls to 20-year low

U.S. home ownership rate falls to 63.9% in fourth quarter

The national home ownership rate fell last quarter to the lowest level in two decades, the U.S. Census Bureau said Thursday.

Despite the housing recovery of the last few years, the ownership rate has been on a steady decline since the housing boom last decade. In the fourth quarter of 2014, the rate fell to a seasonally adjusted level of 63.9%, from 64.3% in the previous quarter.

Last quarter's rate was the lowest since the third quarter of 1994.

Families are struggling to purchase a home because prices have surged far faster than incomes in recent years. Lending standards are also far tighter than in the second quarter of 2004, when easy money policies helped the home ownership rate peak at 69.4%.  

But risky lending eventually popped the bubble and led to a wave of foreclosures that sent the ownership rate down.

Several factors have analysts hopeful that the housing market will pick up this year after a sluggish 2014. Job growth last year was the strongest since 1999 and mortgage interest rates are extremely low.

Furthermore, the government has taken some steps to ease lending standards.  Government-controlled housing finance giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac last month announced new programs to back loans with down payments as low as 3%.

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