Single family housing starts continue to outpace multi-unit starts
October 5, 2017 Tom Sanderson

Single family housing starts continue to outpace multi-unit starts

Housing starts totaled 1.180 million in August (seasonally adjusted annual rate – SAAR) down 0.8% from prior month’s revised figures, and up 1.4% from August 2016 results, and were above expected levels. Single family starts totaled 851k (SAAR), up 1.6% from July and up 17.1% year-over-year. Starts of multi-unit (5+)structures were 323k (SAAR) down 5.8% from July and down 23.1% over prior year. Year-to-date starts are up 2.7%, with single family starts up 8.9% and 5+ unit starts down 9.7%.

For the full year 2016, total starts were 1.174 million, up 5.6% over 2015. Single unit starts led the way with 9.4% growth, while multi-unit starts declined by 1.3%. In the prior couple of years single-unit starts grew more slowly than multi-unit starts. For the full year 2015, total starts were 1.112 million, up 10.8% over 2014. Single unit starts were up 10.3% in 2015, while 5+ unit starts were up 12.9%. For the full year 2014, there were 1.003 million total housing starts, up 8.8% from the 925 thousand starts during 2013. Single family starts were up 4.9% and multifamily starts were up 16.4%. Total 2013 housing starts were up a robust 18.5% from the 781k housing starts recorded in 2012 and in 2012 starts were up 28.2%.

Despite several years of strong growth, there remains a lot of ground to cover for the housing sector to fully recover from the recession. Housing starts are still well below the average of just over 1.5 million per year over the last 40+ years, and even farther below the 2.2 million peak of the most recent housing boom. Since 1968, the U.S. population has grown from 200 million to more than 320 million. Some economists believe that slower population growth and household formation in the U.S. means that housing starts will not recover to 1.5 million units for a long time.

Total starts reached a low point of 478k (SAAR) in April of 2009, while single unit starts bottomed out at 353k in March of 2009. A low housing starts figure not only impacts transportation demand for building products but also for appliances, furniture, and other related items, so continued improvement in the housing sector should lead to rising freight volumes. The ATA estimates that each housing start generates 8 truckloads of freight.