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Moving out? Migration reflects soft Southern California housing market

Moving out? Migration reflects soft Southern California housing market
More people moved out than in in five of the Southland's six counties last year, according to census figures released Thursday. (Lori Shepler / Los Angeles Times)

Population growth in Southern California continued to slow last year, another factor in soft demand for housing.

The populations of the Los Angeles, Riverside and San Diego metro areas were still growing in 2013, according to new figures released by the Census Bureau on  Thursday, but less quickly than they did in either of the two years prior. Of the six counties in Southern California, only two — Riverside and San Diego — grew faster than the state as a whole.

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Housing economists and demographics experts note that fewer people moving and fewer people forming new households have dampened demand for housing since the end of the recession. Thursday's numbers bear that out locally. While births continue to outpace deaths, net migration was negative, meaning more people moved out than moved in, in five of the region's six counties last year, according to the census. And while that's long been the case in Los Angeles County, it's a newer phenomenon in places like the Inland Empire and Orange County.

Indeed the Riverside metro area, which saw a flood of moving trucks in the last decade as families moved east from L.A. in search of cheaper housing, recorded negative migration last year for the first time since 2009. San Bernardino County, in particular, had nearly 11,000 more people move out than move in and saw the slowest population growth in the Southland. Meanwhile Los Angeles and San Diego counties were losing residents at a far slower pace than during the housing boom.

"The flight from the coast is not really picking up," wrote demographer William Frey in an analysis of the figures.

But some local experts say that's already beginning to change. Higher home prices are pushing more buyers east again, said John Husing, a housing economist who studies the Inland Empire. Building permits were up last year in Riverside and San Bernardino. Inventory has picked up in recent months as investors have slowed their activity. And the chance to buy a house for $200,000 less than in Los Angeles County will continue to be a strong draw.

"You're going to see buyers from the coastal counties again priced out," Husing said in an interview last week. "They'll come out here."

Twitter: @bytimlogan

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