Housing Starts Reach Post-Recession High in May as Permits Soften

June 19, 2018

Total housing starts rose 5 percent in May to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 1.35 million units, according to newly released data from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Commerce Department. This is the highest housing starts report since July 2007.

While housing production numbers rose, overall permits — which are a sign of future housing production activity — dropped 4.6 percent to 1.3 million units in May. Single-family permits fell 2.2 percent to 844,000 while multifamily permits fell 8.7 percent to 457,000.

“Ongoing job creation, positive demographics and tight existing home inventory should spur more single-family production in the months ahead,” said NAHB Chief Economist Robert Dietz. “However, the softening of single-family permits is consistent with our reports showing that builders are concerned over mounting construction costs, including the highly elevated prices of softwood lumber.”

The May reading of 1.35 million is the number of housing units builders would begin if they kept this pace for the next 12 months. Within this overall number, single-family starts rose 3.9 percent to 936,000 — the second highest reading since the Great Recession. Meanwhile, the multifamily sector — which includes apartment buildings and condos — rose 7.5 percent to 414,000 units.

Year-to-date, single-family and multifamily production are respectively 9.8 percent and 13.6 percent higher than their levels over the same period last year. The year-to-date metric can help compare performance data over a specific time period and show growth trends.

“We should see builders continue to increase production to meet growing consumer demand even as they grapple with stubborn supply-side constraints, particularly rising lumber costs,” said NAHB Chairman Randy Noel, a custom home builder from LaPlace, La.

Regionally, the Midwest led the nation with a 62.2 percent increase in combined single- and multifamily housing starts. Starts fell 0.9 percent in the South, 4.1 percent in the West and 15 percent in the Northeast.

Looking at regional permit data, permits rose 42.1 percent in the Northeast and 7.2 percent in the Midwest. They fell 4.6 percent in the West and 13.9 percent in the South.