PALM BEACH COUNTY IN 2030: HISPANICS LEADING THE WAY FOR POPULATION GROWTH

Published Friday, May 3, 2019

Christian Quintana with his wife, Milly, daughter, Joyce, 17, and son, Christian, Jr., 13

Palm Beach County 2030: How will we grow? Join the Palm Beach Post as we take a yearlong look at how growth will affect our lives in the not-too-distant future.

Our racial and cultural mix is expected to grow more pronounced.

Christian Quintana and his family joined a demographic wave when they moved to Palm Beach County a few years ago: Population growth in the coming decades will be driven largely by Hispanics.

Quintana, a native of Puerto Rico, works as a real estate agent, a role that gives him a front-row seat to Hispanic migration. When Spanish-speaking buyers phone the Exit Realty office in Wellington and ask for a bilingual agent, Quintana takes the call.

After renting a place, the Quintanas in 2018 bought a new house in Westlake, the freshly incorporated municipality in western Palm Beach County. Their neighbors are a melting pot of Hispanic, black and white homeowners.

It's really, really well-mixed," Quintana says.

That racial and cultural mix is expected to grow more pronounced. The University of Florida's Bureau of Economic and Business Research predicts Palm Beach County's population will expand from 1.41 million in 2017 to 1.64 million in 2030, a 16 percent increase.

Palm Beach County's population growth is projected to vary widely by race. The number of non-Hispanic whites is expected to increase by just 0.6 percent. The black population is predicted to grow by 28 percent, while the Hispanic population will soar by 44 percent.

By 2035, whites no longer will make up the majority of Palm Beach County, University of Florida demographers predict. White residents will remain the county's largest demographic group, but Latinos and African-Americans will combine to make up slightly more than half the county's population.

Such changes are happening throughout the nation, but the shifts are especially visible in Palm Beach County. The white population here skews older than average, meaning death rates outpace birth rates. And the county long has drawn new residents from Miami-Dade and Broward counties, two heavily Hispanic areas that are out of vacant land.

"We still have a lot of land. Broward doesn't," says Palm Beach County Property Appraiser Dorothy Jacks. "If you're thinking, 'I'd like a little quieter life, less traffic, less hubbub, a brand new house,' that's still a real possibility here."

White Americans are waiting until well into their 30s to have children, while Hispanics are starting families in their 20s, says Jim Johnson, a University of North Carolina business professor who studies sociological trends.

The Business Development Board of Palm Beach County hired Johnson to give a presentation last year to local leaders about the nation's dramatic demographic shifts.

"It is the browning of your county," said Johnson, who's black.

There's also a pronounced graying of Palm Beach County's population. From 2017 to 2030, the University of Florida expects huge jumps in the 65 and older population — that segment is expected to double for blacks and Hispanics, and to rise nearly 40 percent for whites. Irma Morris, 96, still lives by herself and practices yoga once a week at Yoga Path in West Palm Beach.

Aging residents of Palm Beach County can only hope their futures look like that of Irma Morris. The Pittsburgh native was in her late 60s when she and her husband retired from their jewelry business and moved to a condo in Palm Beach in 1991.

Now 96, Morris is mentally sharp. She still drives and carries on lively conversations. Morris stays fit with regular visits to a Curves gym and to Yoga Path in West Palm Beach.

Her joints ache from arthritis, grocery shopping is sometimes a chore and Morris acknowledges that aging feels lonely. Her husband of 66 years died a few years ago. Overall, though, she's healthy and active.

"I think my attitude helps," Morris says.

The Morrises were the sort of new arrivals who drove Palm Beach County's growth for decades. In 1960, just 228,000 people lived in Palm Beach County, then a sleepy place with no office towers, no shopping malls, no Interstate 95.

After four decades of breakneck growth, Palm Beach County in 2000 had more than 1.1 million residents — along with many malls and office towers, and an oft-clogged I-95. Palm Beach County's average wages are among the highest in Florida and by some estimates, local workers might see their paychecks rise in the coming years. FILE PHOTO/The Palm Beach Post

Throughout those four decades, single-family homes were cheap and plentiful, and the usual new arrival was someone fleeing the cold, the traffic and the taxes in New York, New Jersey or Massachusetts. Jay Shearouse, chief executive of First Bank of the Palm Beaches, started his career making mortgages to that breed of buyers.

"Most of my loans were to people from the Northeast," Shearouse says. "The typical case was somebody was aging out, they had a pension, and they had a house they'd owned for 40 years. You could build a beautiful, brand-spanking-new house here for $100,000 or $150,000."

Ahh, the good old days. After a bout of steep price appreciation that was interrupted but not reversed by the Great Recession, a new house for less than $300,000 is almost impossible to find in Palm Beach County. The Quintanas paid $367,000 for their 2,600-square-foot house in the western reaches of Palm Beach County, according to property records.

Wealthier buyers moving in

With prices like those, it's no surprise that today's new arrivals to Palm Beach County are wealthier than in the past. According to IRS data, affluent people are flocking to Palm Beach County. From 2015 to 2016, some 65,200 people moved into the county, and about 52,100 people moved out.

The income shift is dramatic. People moving in had adjusted gross incomes of $5.3 billion, compared to just $2.2 billion for taxpayers moving out of Palm Beach County.

In other words, people moving in reported taxable income of about $81,000 a year, far above the $42,300 average reported by those moving out.

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"I don't think Palm Beach County is particularly attractive for someone with a lower income," said David Cobb, an analyst at housing research firm Metrostudy. "It's not an inexpensive place to live, especially compared to other parts of Florida."

Are middle-class buyers steering clear of Palm Beach County because it's expensive? Or are builders targeting richer buyers because they're the only ones who can afford to move into the county?

"We're attracting higher-income buyers because we're not building affordable homes," says Lesley Deutch, a Boca Raton-based analyst at John Burns Real Estate Consulting. "If we had less expensive homes, we'd be attracting working people."

The job market also plays a role. Palm Beach County's average wages are among the highest in Florida, even as pay here lags national norms. During the third quarter of 2018, the average weekly wage in Palm Beach County was $986, trailing the national average of $1,055, according to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics.

By some estimates, Palm Beach County workers might see their paychecks rise in the coming years. University of Central Florida economist Sean Snaith predicts workers in the three-county South Florida region will enjoy raises of nearly 4 percent a year over the next decade.

Under that scenario, the average annual wage in South Florida would climb from $57,100 in 2018 to $89,300 in 2030.

Some lament the lack of high-paying jobs as a drag on the sort of high-quality growth that Palm Beach County leaders crave. Jeff Greene, the billionaire real estate investor who lives in Palm Beach, says the thin pool of lucrative jobs led him to delay some of his development projects in West Palm Beach — although he has broken ground on his most ambitious project, an office and residential development near the Palm Beach County courthouse.

"We have rich people moving here, and lots of workers who are barely making ends meet," Greene says. "That is not a recipe for a fast-moving, growing real estate market."

Greene doesn't have an especially rosy view of the future of the economy, either. Twice in recent years, he brought together economists, historians and politicians for confabs at his Palm Beach hotel. The general consensus is that many workers will lose their jobs to automation.

That financial reality means that Gold Coast Federal Credit Union in Palm Springs has found a niche in making personal loans for as little as $500 to borrowers struggling to pay their bills.

"There are a lot of folks who aren't able to save," says Robert Delaney, the credit union's president. "We need better-paying jobs in the county. We also need more affordable housing."

Even with no clear resolution to the question of affordable housing, Palm Beach County's population is set to expand by 42 people a day for the decade ending in 2020. That growth will lay bare long-simmering tensions about how much growth is too much. All those new residents will need homes, medical care, schools, stores and transportation.

"The $64,000 question is where are we going to fit all these people?" says Metrostudy's Cobb. "Vacant land east of the Turnpike really isn't available any more."

Local officials have signed off on large new developments such as Westlake, Alton and Avenir in Palm Beach Gardens and Arden in unincorporated Palm Beach County. But new projects invariably raise the hackles of existing residents who worry about new strains on roads, schools and other public services.

"There's more demand than supply," Deutch says. " But there's a lot of question marks. Do we want all that growth?"

Palm Beach Post

https://www.palmbeachpost.com/news/20190503/palm-beach-county-in-2030-hispanics-leading-way-for-population-growth?template=ampart

 

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