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Home ownership declined in the 1980s for the first time since World War II, Sen. Lloyd Bentsen said Saturday, citing high prices and high interest rates.

"In the decades following World War II you saw home ownership continue to climb, but in the '80s it headed downhill," said Bentsen, D-Texas. "And the reasons were . . . that housing costs were up, but - one of the big ones - interest rates were up."According to a study by a senior economist for the Joint Economic Committee of Congress, home ownership peaked at 65.6 percent of the population in 1980 and then began falling, hitting 63.9 percent last year.

The study found home ownership had fallen dramatically in the youngest age groups. In 1973 nearly one-fourth - or 23.4 percent of people under age 25 - owned a home. In 1988 the rate was 15.5 percent.

In other younger age groups, the situation is similar: 43.6 percent of 25-to-29-year-olds were homeowners in 1973, falling to 36.2 percent in 1988. For the 30-to-34-year-old group, 60.2 percent owned homes in 1973, dropping to 52.6 percent in 1988. And in the 35-to-39 bracket, the rate fell from 68.5 percent in 1973 to 63.2 percent in 1988.

The average age of first-time homebuyers has jumped to 32 now, up from 28 years old in 1980, the study said.

Housing affordability is determined by several factors, including tax policy, income growth and housing prices, the study said.

Rising house prices are reflected particularly in down payment requirements, the study said. In this decade alone, the average down payment for first-time home buyers has risen more than 50 percent, from $8,600 in 1981 to $13,000 in 1988.

The other major hurdle to home ownership is interest rates, the study said.

The interest cost along of a $100,000 fixed rate, 30-year mortgage at 6 percent, the prevailing rate in the 1960s, would have been $115,841, with a monthly house payment of $600.

At 9 percent, the prevailing rate of the mid-1970s, the total interest cost would have been $188,810, with the monthly payments $802.

But at 10.5 percent, the prevailing mortgage rate today, that interest cost would be $229,306 - nearly double the interest cost off a 6 percent mortgage, and monthly house payments would be $915.

"That's a tough hill to climb," said Bentsen, the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee..