Housing Starts Gain 3.5% in May

Single-family starts rose 3.7%; building permits jumped 8.7% to an annual rate of 612,000 units

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June 16, 2011 - Nationwide housing starts rose 3.5% to a seasonally adjusted annual pace of 560,000 units in May, according to newly released figures from the U.S. Commerce Department. The gain partially offsets a larger decline that was registered in April.

"While the upward movement registered in today's report is somewhat good news, housing production continues to bounce along the bottom near historic lows, and is only running at a level necessary to replace dilapidated or destroyed units," said Bob Nielsen, chairman of the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) and a home builder from Reno, Nev. He also noted that "Amidst this fragile marketplace, the nation's policymakers should be aware of a recent poll that confirms the strong value that most American voters continue to place on homeownership and housing choice."

Conducted this May on behalf of NAHB by Public Opinion Strategies of Alexandria, Va., and Lake Research Partners of Washington, D.C., the poll asked 2,000 likely voters about their attitudes on homeownership and housing policy. It found that the vast majority of current home owners are happy with their decision to own a home and believe that owning their own home is important, while nearly three-quarters of those who do not now own a home consider it a goal of theirs to eventually buy one. Additionally, the poll determined that 73% of owners and renters believe the federal government should provide tax incentives to promote homeownership. Details on this poll are available at www.nahb.org/voterpoll.

"Like consumers, builders remain very concerned about the pace of economic growth and are awaiting signs of improvement before moving forward with new projects," noted NAHB Chief Economist David Crowe. "The relative bright spot in new-home construction is on the multifamily side, where improving demand for rental apartments is spurring gains in that sector. However, access to construction credit remains a limiting factor for new building."

Single-family housing starts rose 3.7% to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 419,000 units in May – their strongest pace since this January. Multifamily starts rose 2.9% to a 141,000-unit rate in May.

Regionally, housing production rose 1.5% in the South and 18.1% in the West, but declined 3.3% in the Northeast and 4.1% in the Midwest in May.

Issuance of building permits, which can be an indicator of future building activity, rose 8.7% to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 612,000 units in May. This was the strongest pace since December of 2010. Single-family permits were up 2.5% to a 405,000-unit rate, while multifamily permits rose 23.2% to 207,000-units – their best pace since October of 2008.

Permit issuance posted double-digit gains in the Northeast and West in May, rising 35.6% and 15.1%, respectively. The South also posted a gain, of 3.5%, while the Midwest registered a 1.1% decline.