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New Home Construction Slowing Down

Monday, April 18, 2005; Page E02

The pace of local home building may be slowing, despite the sizzling market. But is that the doing of cautious home builders or reluctant local governments?

Those are among possible interpretations of last year's data on housing permits issued by Washington area governments. According to the Census Bureau, local jurisdictions issued permits for 36,881 new units of housing in 2004, down from 38,696 in 2003. The count includes single-family homes, apartments, condominiums and townhouses. That's the fewest permits issued in the region since 1997, when construction of 30,249 units was authorized.

It takes two to issue a building permit, after all, both a local government and a builder. So it's hard to tell which is more responsible for the drop in permits.

With the housing market booming, builders might be expected to put up new residences as fast as they can. If so, the resistance may have come from local jurisdictions exercising tighter zoning restrictions.

On the other hand, after frenetic growth in prices in the last seven years, home builders may have pulled back out of concern that there's a housing bubble ready to burst.

-- Neil Irwin

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