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Housing Starts Post Slight Gains in April

The pace of housing starts was 17.7% higher than a year ago, but still insufficient to meet the demand, experts say. Higher rates have stymied homebuilding.  

WASHINGTON – Housing starts in April posted a monthly gain of 5.7% to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 1.36 million units, following a 17% fall in March, according to a report from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and the U.S. Census Bureau.

The April reading of starts is the number of housing units builders would begin if development kept this pace for the next 12 months. Within the current overall number, single-family starts decreased 0.4% to a 1.03 million seasonally adjusted annual rate. However, this pace is 17.7% higher than a year ago. On a year-to-date basis, single-family starts are up 25.7%, totaling 335,600. The multifamily sector, which includes apartment buildings and condos, increased 30.6% to an annualized 329,000 pace.

“While the start of the year has seen an expansion for single-family home building because of a lack of existing home inventory, homebuilding activity leveled off in April as higher interest rates, tighter lending conditions and lower home building sentiment acted as headwinds on new home construction,” said Carl Harris, chairman of the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) and a custom home builder from Wichita, Kan. “Lower interest rates, particularly for builder and developer loans, will help builders to increase the pace of home construction in the months ahead.”

On a regional and year-to-date basis, combined single-family and multifamily starts are 24.5% lower in the Northeast, 11.0% higher in the Midwest, 1.8% higher in the South and 8.4% higher in the West.

Overall permits decreased 3.0% to a 1.44 million unit annualized rate in April. Single-family permits decreased 0.8% to a 976,000 unit rate; this is the lowest pace since August 2023. Multifamily permits decreased 7.4% to an annualized 464,000 pace.

Looking at regional data on a year-to-date basis, permits are 9.3% higher in the Northeast, 8.5% higher in the Midwest, 2.8% higher in the South and 0.2% higher in the West.

After peaking in July 2023 at 1.02 million apartments under construction, active multifamily units under construction is declining quickly—down to 934,000 in April.

“Moving forward, the multifamily market will see additional declines for construction volume, while the pace of completions remains elevated,” said NAHB Chief Economist Robert Dietz. “April marked the fifth consecutive month for which the seasonally adjusted rate of multifamily completions was above 500,000. This additional rental supply will help lower shelter inflation, which is the last leg of the inflation policy challenge.”

Lawrence Yun, chief economist for the National Association of Realtors®, said the total annualized rate of 1.36 million is insufficient overall. The country needs around 1.6 million or higher for a few years to truly bring about a balance in the housing sector, he said.

Yun added, “On a positive note, albeit only for the short term, the completion of homes is rising due to past months' higher housing starts. The 1.62 million housing unit completions in April was the second-highest monthly figure in 15 years. Expect apartment vacancy rates to trend higher, rents to slow down, and more homebuyers able to buy newly constructed homes. However, given the recent declines in housing starts, home completions will steadily show declines in about six months.”

Yun reiterated the housing shortage is not going away and more work needs to be done to keep up with demand.

“The laws of supply and demand tell us that home prices are on firm ground and could even reaccelerate in the future unless more is done to boost supply,” he said.

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