The proportion of renters among U.S. households has increased steadily in recent months, according to the Census Bureau’s Housing Vacancy Survey. In the fourth quarter of 2008, which ended in December, there were an estimated 632,000 more renter households than during the same period a year before. At the same time, the number of homeowner households grew by 344,000. As a result, the proportion of renters in the country rose to 32.5% from 32.2% the year before, the highest proportion of renters since the third quarter of 2000.
Nationally, rents also showed an increase. The median asking rent for a vacant apartment rose to $704, from $637 the year before. Even controlling for inflation, there was a nearly 5% increase in rents from last year.
The overall vacancy rate in the U.S. housing stock increased to 14.5% from 13.8% the year before. This was due primarily to an increase in the number of homes designated as being held off the market, which were 5.2% of all homes in the U.S., the highest proportion since at least 1989. Homes being held off the market are those that are not being marketed, and include those that sellers had been trying to sell but no longer are as well as foreclosed units. Vacant for-sale homes were 1.7% of the total U.S. stock and those for rent were 3.16%.
The official vacancy rates, which look only at non-seasonal units that are occupied, awaiting occupancy or for rent or for sale, were 10.1% for rental homes and 2.9% owner occupied homes were both higher than the year before, and at or near their historical highs. The number of units held off the market is likely constraining the rise in official vacancy rates, particularly for the owner-occupied stock.
The Housing Vacancy Survey, including the latest data and historical tables, can be retrieved from http://www.census.gov/hhes/www/housing/hvs/hvs.html.