Housing Vacancy Survey results from the first quarter of 2009 indicate that the U.S. housing market continues to undergo a significant transition, experiencing a rising number and proportion of renters, and rising asking rents even as the total number of vacant properties increases. The Census Bureau released these data on April 27.
The proportion of renters in the United States rose to 32.7 after reaching a historic low of 30.8 in 2004. This represented an increase of 748,000 renters since the first quarter of 2008. In the same period the number of homeowners declined by 203,000 households. The prices renters face in the market also appear to be rising. The detailed tables of the report show an increase in median asking rents for vacant units, rising from $679 to $723 in the past year in constant terms. The median home price declined from $192,900 to $167,200.
While the official vacancy rate for rental housing remained unchanged from a year ago at 10.1%, and the corresponding homeowner vacancy rate actually declined slightly, from a historical high of 2.9% to 2.7%, these measures only look at homes that are being marketed. The survey indicates that the total number of vacant units actually increased from 35.6 million to 36.4 million in the past year and as a result the overall vacancy rate increased from 14% to 15%. This was due primarily to an increase in units that were neither for rent nor for sale, likely the result of foreclosures and market timing by owners.
Official vacancy rates showed some significant variations. Nationwide, suburban rental vacancy rates continued to edge lower as the homeowner vacancy rate appeared to increase. In principal cities, the trend was reversed, with homeowner vacancies declining and rental vacancies increasing. This is likely in keeping with the increase in demand for rental housing. In many urban areas the conversion of units, particularly condos from ownership to rental can be observed. In suburban markets, where opportunities for conversion are more limited, increased rental demand appears to be reducing supply.
Regionally, rental vacancy rates declined in the Northeast and Midwest, decreasing nearly 2 percentage points in the Midwest- -falling from 11.8% to 10.1%. Rental vacancy rates increased in the South to 12.9% and by 1.6 percentage points in the West, to 8.6%. Homeownership vacancies showed nominal declines in all four regions.
Data from the most recent and past Housing Vacancy Surveys, a component of the Current Population survey can be found at www.census.gov/hhes/www/housing/hvs/hvs.html