Bloomberg News

Decade’s Housing Growth Near Historic U.S. Low Even in Boom

October 06, 2011

(Updates with Newport comment in final paragraph.)

Oct. 6 (Bloomberg) -- The biggest housing boom in the last 30 years was offset by the sharpest slump in a generation, ensuring that the growth in residential units during the last decade remained at lows not seen since the Great Depression, the U.S. Census Bureau said today.

The number of homes, apartments and condominiums added in the decade grew 15.9 million to 131.7 million, a 13.6 percent growth rate. Almost 90 percent of the growth occurred between 2000 and 2007. There were 2.1 million housing starts in 2005. Last year, there were 587,000, Census figures show.

“This is unprecedented,” said Patrick Newport, an IHS Global Insight economist in Boston. “We just overbuilt by far. We’ve never seen anything like this.”

The growth rate was slightly higher than the 13.3 percent registered between 1990 and 2000. It was less than half the 28.7 percent recorded during the 1980s, when the maturing baby boom generation added 19.7 million homes, and barely half the 23.2 percent growth registered during the 1940s.

The nation’s rate of homeownership dropped to 65.1 percent, down 1.1 percentage point from 66.2 percent in 2000. The Census Bureau said it was the sharpest drop since the 1930s. Even with the drop, the percentage of homeowners was the second-highest since the government began recording home ownership figures in the 1890s, the government said.

Seven-County Cluster

Seven of the nation’s 3,142 counties accounted for 10 percent of the new housing units. Maricopa County, Arizona, added 389,000 homes during the decade, followed by Harris County, Texas, which added 301,000, and Clark County, Nevada, which increased its count by 281,000. Some of those counties are now mired in the housing crisis, with empty blocks of overbuilt homes and no buyers.

Three U.S. counties doubled their housing stock. The number of Sumter County homes in central Florida grew 110 percent. Teton County, Idaho, boosted its number of homes by 108 percent, and Kendall County, Illinois, a Chicago suburb, grew by 107 percent.

The number of vacant homes grew almost one-third to 15 million, or 11.4 percent of all housing units, up from 10.4 million in 2000.

Some of the areas that were hardest hit by the nation’s foreclosure crisis registered only small changes in the percentage of homeowners and renters. The number of renters grew in San Bernadino County, California, to 37.4 percent from 35.5 percent. Maricopa, also hit hard, had its renter percentage climb to 35.5 percent from 32.5 percent.

Lost Housing

Almost 500 counties lost housing units. St. Bernard Parish, Louisiana, lost 37 percent, or 9,996 homes, after Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf Coast in 2005. Neighboring Orleans County lost 25,195 homes, or 11.7 percent of its housing units. McDowell County, West Virginia, formerly home to an integrated mining operation for U.S. Steel, lost 2,260 homes, or 16.7 percent of its housing stock.

“It became a bubble because the government encouraged home ownership,” Newport said. “And banks made it very easy to borrow money.”

--Editors: Flynn McRoberts, Mark McQuillan

To contact the reporter on this story: Frank Bass in Washington at fbass1@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Flynn McRoberts at fmcroberts1@bloomberg.net


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