by Paul Emrath — Eye on Housing
Traditionally, the Census Bureau reports statistics on new residential construction (including housing starts) only for the four principal census regions: Northeast, Midwest, South and West. The geography is limited by the way the sample for the Survey of Construction is drawn. In 2009, the sample was redrawn in a way that allows for slightly more geographic detail (i.e., nine census divisions). Although the added detail isn’t yet published on the Census website, it can be tabulated from a publicly available data set.
The public data set for residential construction in 2011 was released in June of this year. It shows that more than one in four single-family starts occurred in the South Atlantic—a division that includes a strip of seven states on the east coast, stretching from Delaware to Florida—plus West Virginia and the District of Columbia. Second is the West South Central Division (Arkansas, Louisiana, Oklahoma and Texas) with just over 20 percent. Each of the other seven divisions accounted for less than 11 percent of single-family starts.
Since 2009, the South Atlantic increased its share of single-family starts from 23.1 to 25.7 percent, and the share also incresed in the Middle Atlantic (from 6.7 to 7.2 percent) and West North Central (6.7 to 7.3 percent). The starts share in the other six divisions was either close to unchanged or down slightly from 2009, the last time NAHB published an article showing a division breakdown.
Historically, 2009 and 2011 were unusual in that fewer than 450,000 single-family homes were started in each of those years. In comparison, from 1960 through 2007 single-family starts averaged about 1.1 million per year. Caution is therefore required when interpreting recent statistics. When such a large share of construction activity has disappeared, the current distribution of starts may be capturing a temporary effect (i.e., areas that were better able than others to resist the downturn) as well as longer-run geographic trends.