Single-family starts show gradual improvement in April


A lack of existing inventory and stabilizing mortgage rates helped push single-family production up to the highest rate thus far in 2023 even as builders continue to deal with high construction costs, persistent labor shortages and tightening credit conditions for construction loans.

Overall housing starts in April increased 2.2 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 1.40 million units, according to a report from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and the U.S. Census Bureau.

The April reading of 1.40 million starts is the number of housing units builders would begin if development kept this pace for the next 12 months. Within this overall number, single-family starts increased 1.6 percent to an 846,000 seasonally adjusted annual rate. However, this remains 28.1 percent lower than a year ago. The multifamily sector, which includes apartment buildings and condos, increased 3.2 percent to an annualized 555,000 pace.

“Single-family starts are showing gradual improvement from the beginning of the year, and this is reflected in our builder sentiment surveys, which are up for five consecutive months,” said Alicia Huey, chairman of the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) and a custom home builder and developer from Birmingham, Ala. “Due to a lack of inventory for resales, we expect to see further improvement for single-family production in the months ahead even as builders continue to grapple with supply-chain and labor shortages.”

“As the Federal Reserve nears the end of its tightening of financial conditions, we expect mortgage rates to moderate in the months ahead, and this will lead to a gradual improvement in single-family production,” said NAHB Chief Economist Robert Dietz. “Multifamily permits are down 23 percent year-over-year, and this indicates a slowdown for apartment construction is underway due to a tighter lending environment.”

On a regional and year-to-date basis, combined single-family and multifamily starts were 8.9 percent lower in the Northeast, 29.5 percent lower in the Midwest, 15.9 percent lower in the South and 29.7 percent lower in the West.

Overall permits decreased 1.5 percent to a 1.42 million unit annualized rate in April. Single-family permits increased 3.1 percent to an 855,000 unit rate, but are down 21.2 percent compared to a year ago. Multifamily permits decreased 7.7 percent to an annualized 561,000 pace.

Looking at regional permit data on a year-to-date basis, permits were 27.2 percent lower in the Northeast, 28.2 percent lower in the Midwest, 18.7 percent lower in the South and 28.6 percent lower in the West.

The number of single-family homes under construction in April fell to 698,000, down 16% from a peak total of 831,000 in May 2022.

There are now 977,000 apartments under construction, which is the highest level since September 1973.