Housing Construction Isn't Keeping Up With Demand

We're Building 6 Homes for Every 10 New Households. Where Will People Live?

Updated on October 6th, 2020

Since 2009, housing demand has significantly outstripped supply, quite significantly in some areas.  In 2015, we estimate that more than a million new households were created but only 620,000 new housing units were completed, creating a shortage of 430,370 units. This gap has pushed up home prices and rents, a trend that will continue for the foreseeable future absent imminent policy changes.
The U.S. entered the 2008 economic crisis with more housing than was needed, putting downward pressure on price. But construction hasn’t kept up since then and that surplus has been substantially eliminated :
Single-family starts and completions are above their post-crisis lows but are still well below levels seen between 1968 and 2008. Construction on new apartments is better, but still far below historic levels.
In 2015 there were just 968,000 multifamily housing completions; from 1968 to 2008, annual completions always exceeded a million units.

Supply: Fewer Than 620,000 New Homes

We added together single-family, multi-family and manufactured housing construction in 2015, then subtracted units lost to various causes. The bulk of the new supply, at 968,000 units, was single-family and multi-family construction; Manufactured housing such as mobile homes, added another 69,000 units, bringing the total to just over one million.
To calculate the loss of existing stock we borrowed from a study by Eggers and Moumen which suggests that demolition, disaster and other events reduce the U.S. housing stock at an annual rate of .31 percent. There were more than 134.7 million housing units in the U.S. last year, so by that calculation we lost 418,000 of them, resulting in a net new supply of only 619,630 houses, condos and apartments .

Demand: More Than 1 Million New Households

There were 968,075 new households in 2014, according to the Census Bureau. Data for 2015 aren’t yet available, but we know household formation has been rising. It’s safe to assume between 1 million and 1.1 million new households were created last year. Supply outstripped demand leading up to the financial crisis,by as much as a million units in 2006.
By 2009, housing supply began to slow enough that the market was able to work off the pre-crisis excess inventory. This excess inventory is now substantially gone on the national level.

housing construction
Source: Urban Institute, American Community Survey

The Upshot

As builders start work on more new houses, won’t supply begin to catch up to demand? Yes, at some point, but the supply-demand gap is expected to continue to grow for several years, even if household formation is flat.  Chances are it won’t be. Millennials are still forming households and baby boomers are living longer and more independently than ever.
It’s also important to remember that we don’t have a national housing market. In some areas, such as the coasts, housing supply significantly outstrips demand. Many areas are closer to balance, while a stubbornly large number have a long-term surplus—places like Detroit, Cleveland and Buffalo, where net household formation has slowed or stopped.
Moreover, most new construction is targets upper-income renters and owners: the lack of affordable stock is already at crisis levels.  We need an array of federal, state, and local strategies to boost construction in undersupplied areas, provide better affordability for renters and extend –mortgage credit to would-be first-time buyers.


Laurie Goodman

Laurie is director of the Urban Institute's Housing Finance Policy Center in Washington, D.C. Before joining Urban in 2013, Goodman spent 30 years on Wall Street and served as a senior economist at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. She was inducted into the Fixed Income Analysts Hall of Fame in 2009.

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