The housing market did not begin to work off its inventory of vacant for-rent and for-sale homes in the last quarter of 2009, according the most recent data from the Housing Vacancy Survey, released by the U.S. Census Bureau on February 2.
Overall, 85.5% of all housing units in the country were occupied in both the fourth quarter of 2008 and the fourth quarter of 2009. The gross vacancy rate was 14.5%. The rental vacancy rate (10.7%) remained higher than a year ago (10.1%) and statistically unchanged from the previous quarter (11.1%). The rate for for-sale one- to four-unit buildings was 2.7%, statistically unchanged from the fourth quarter 2008 and from the third quarter of 2009 (2.6%). The remaining vacant units were either seasonal or otherwise not for-rent or for-sale.
The Census estimates the country added 334,000 owner households in the last quarter of the year and 709,000 renters. Despite the growth in the number of renters, the rental vacancy rate has yet to decline because the number of rental units, vacant and occupied, continues to expand with demand. In the past year, the number of vacant for-rent units increased by 379,000, while the number of for-sale units declined by 119,000 units. Much of the rented and for-rent stock was previously for sale.
Another sign of the growing supply of rental properties is that the median asking rent for a vacant rental ($680) was down from the previous quarter a year before, though this measure tends to jump around and a longer term trend in rents has yet to establish itself in the data.
At 67.2%, the homeownership rate is statistically lower than it was in the third quarter of 2009 but unchanged from a year prior. Eighty-one percent of the households with family incomes above the national median and 50.2% of those with incomes below own a home. Both groups saw their homeownership rate decline. Black householders saw a significant decline in homeownership in the past year. Forty-six percent of black householders owned a home in the fourth quarter.
The most recent press release from the Housing Vacancy Survey, as well as detailed and historical tables and other supporting materials can be found at http://www.census.gov/hhes/www/housing/hvs/hvs.html