Historical Pattern and Composition of Housing Starts in Major U.S. Cities
Through the extensive aid of charts, this report will look at the historical patterns and make-up of housing starts –single-family versus multi-family and combined total − in 18 of America’s largest metropolitan statistical areas (MSAs), based on population.
MSA resident counts include those living both in city cores and in nearby suburbs where there are close back-and-forth commuting ties.
The numbers from the Census Bureau are actually residential permits in units, derived from the Building Permits Survey (BPS) of local building officials, but they are generally taken to be synonymous with ‘starts’. The data can be accessed at the following link: https://www.census.gov/construction/bps/
In nearly every major urban center, multi-unit construction has roared back more emphatically than the single-family market.
New York-Newark-Jersey City
New York, number one for population (at 20.2 million people) among all U.S. cities, ranked third for total number of housing starts in 2016 (42,500 units). Multiple-unit starts were exceptionally strong in 2015 (75,700 units), but they fell by more than half in 2016 (to 32,500 units). Multi-unit starts as a percentage of New York’s total starts have averaged 67.7% over the 17 years from 2000 to 2016. Since the Great Recession, their share has averaged 74.9%. In 2016, their slice climbed again to 76.5%.
Los Angeles-Long Beach-Anaheim
Los Angeles (13.3 million people) is the nation’s second most populous MSA, but its housing starts total in 2016 (32,000 units) ranked fifth. Single-family permits in L.A. of late have remained well below their pre-Great Recession levels, but multi-family starts have soared past their best performances earlier in the period covered. Multi-family starts as a proportion of the total have average 59.3% over the full 17 years covered; but they’ve risen to 70.0% since 2009; and in 2016, they were 70.9%.
The Chicago MSA (with 9.6 million residents) appears third in a U.S. city population ranking, but its housing starts total in 2016 (19,500 units) placed it in only eleventh position. Single-family starts continue to be stuck in a trough and while multi-family starts have recovered somewhat (to 11,400 units in 2016), they are still one-third below the 18,100 units reached in 2006. Multi-units starts in Chicago have averaged 39.1% of the total from 2000 to 2016; but a significantly higher 46.4% from 2010 to 2016; and last year, they accounted for a 58.5% slice.
Dallas-Fort Worth (7.1 million people), the fourth largest city in America by population, placed number one overall for total housing starts last year (55,600 units). The city’s comeback in single-family starts since the Great Recession has been only so-so. Its multi-family market, though, has shown exceptional buoyancy. While the share of multi-unit starts in the total continues to be less than in most urban centers, it has moved up nicely from 33.3% on average, 2000 to 2016; to 43.2% on average, 2010 to 2016; and 46.4% in 2016 on its own.
Houston-The Woodlands-Sugar Land
It’s remarkable that Houston (6.7 million people), the nation’s fifth most populous city, ranked second for total housing starts in the U.S. in 2016 (44,600 units), given that the local economy’s important energy sector was faced with significant challenges. Houston’s residential construction continues to be mainly driven by single-family units. Multi-family units shot up to 25,400 in 2014, before the oil price collapse, but they fell to less than 10,000 last year. Multi-family units as a percentage of the city’s total have averaged 26.5%, 2000 to 2016; 29.7%, 2010 to 2016; but they dropped to a small 20.6% in 2016.
Washington (6.1 million people), which is ranked sixth in the country for population, came in eighth with respect to total housing starts in 2016 (24,900 units). Single-family permits in the nation’s capital have hardly improved at all since the Great Recession, but multi-family starts have contributed far more than usual over the past six years. Washington’s multi-family starts as a proportion of total starts from 2000 to 2016 averaged 35.4%. More recently, from 2010 to 2016, the multi-family slice rose to 45.4% on average. In 2016, they took a 47.8% share.
Philadelphia (6.1 million people), in seventh place for population, dropped way down to twenty-first spot for total housing starts in 2016 (only 12,100 units). Single-family permits in the city continue to idle in neutral and while multi-family starts have recently been exceeding their mid-00 levels, they have been relatively restrained nonetheless. A high of 6,700 units in 2014 is nothing to get too excited about. As a share of the total, multi-unit starts averaged 32.3% during the 17-year period 2000 to 2016; and 42.2% during the seven years from 2010 to 2016. In 2016, they were 43.8%.
Miami-Fort Lauderdale-West Palm Beach
Miami attained a notable spike in housing starts from 2003 through 2005 (above 20,000 units in each of those years). Since then, the city has failed to see a repeat of those ‘glory days’. Ranked eighth among MSAs in the U.S. for population (6.0 million residents), it managed only a thirteenth-place showing for total housing starts in 2016 (18,700 units). Multi-unit starts, though, have certainly demonstrated more vitality since the Great Recession than single-family starts. The multi-unit proportion of total starts has moved up from 52.7% on average, 2000 to 2016; to 59.3% on average, 2010 to 2016; and a loftier 64.2% in the standalone year of 2016.
Atlanta is another city with a markedly better pick-up in multi-unit starts as opposed to single-family starts since the end of the Great Recession. Ranked ninth according to population (5.7 million people), Atlanta shone with a fourth-place record among its siblings in total housing starts in 2016 (36,100 units). Multi-unit permits as a share of total permits in the city, while still modest compared with many other urban centers, have nevertheless been marching upwards. From 2000 to 2016, they averaged 27.3%; from 2010 to 2016, 32.2%; and in 2016, they were 36.6%.
Last year, Boston (4.8 million people), sitting in tenth place for population, was in twentieth spot for total housing starts (13,000 units) among U.S. cities. The single-family market, post-Great Recession, has been edging up, but it’s in the multi-family market where the greater resiliency has been apparent. Multi-family starts topped 10,000 units in 2015, before relaxing to 7,700 last year. Multi-unit starts as a percentage of total have been less than half (48.3%) on average, 2000 to 2016; but more than half (55.4%) 2010 to 2016. In 2016, they percolated up to 59.2%.
The San Francisco-Oakland MSA (4.7 million people), which stands on the eleventh rung from the top of the population ladder, claimed sixteenth spot with respect to total housing starts/permits in 2016 (15,000 units). Since dipping to an extreme low of only 1,300 units in 2009, −which was the second and final year of the Great Recession − the city’s multi-family market has done almost nothing but shoot skyward (with the exception of a brief retraction in 2014). Multi-unit starts as a share of the total have been 53.4% on average 2000 to 2016; 64.0% on average 2010 to 2016; and a more than two-thirds (67.3%) proportion in 2016.
Phoenix (4.6 million people) had a terrible downturn in housing starts in the wake of the subprime mortgage crisis. A big contributor to the precipitous plunge was the unsustainable peak of 65,300 units reached in 2004. Multi-unit starts in the city all but disappeared in 2009, bottoming out at an annual level of just 700 units. But the city has picked up its socks and in 2016 ranked sixth among all U.S. MSAs in terms of total housing starts (28,500 units). Multiples as a percentage of the total have averaged only 24.3% since 2000; 27.5% since 2010; but were up to 34.7% in 2016. At one-third-plus, however, they are still a minor player relative to singles.
The Seattle-Tacoma MSA (3.7 million people), with a population ranking among all U.S. cities of fifteenth, had a total housing starts ranking of seventh in 2016 (25,500 units). Seattle has become one of the few American cities – with Los Angeles, Dallas and San Francisco as the other most prominent ones − in which residential groundbreakings have now recovered to where they were at their best in the early 00s before the Great Recession. Seattle’s multi-family permits have soared to new heights. Multi-family’s share of the total in Seattle has shifted from 44.8% on average from 2000 to 2016; to 54.8%, 2010 to 2016; and to 63.1% in the individual year of 2016.
Minneapolis-St. Paul (3.5 million people), placing sixteenth for population among all MSAs, ranked a little lower for total housing starts last year, eighteenth. The multi-family market is closer to re-capturing its elevated perch from before the Big Dip than is the single-family market. The percentage of multi-unit starts to total starts in Minneapolis-St. Paul, while rising, is still less than 50% or below half. The multi-unit share has moved higher from 31.5% on average, 2000 to 2016; to 39.8%, 2010 to 2016; and 44.7% in standalone 2016.
San Diego (3.3 million people), with a seventeenth place population ranking, was twenty-third overall among all MSAs for total housing starts in 2016 (10,700 units). Virtually all of San Diego’s improvement in residential groundbreakings since 2009-2010 has come in the multi-family market. Multi-family starts as a percentage of the total in San Diego have moved up from an already significant 51.7% (or more than half) on average from 2000 to 2016; to 61.8% on average for 2010 to 2016; and to a truly impressive 78.5% in 2016 by itself.
Tampa-St. Petersburg’s eighteenth-place ranking for population (3.0 million people) stepped up to a fifteenth-place position for total housing starts among all MSAs in 2016 (17,200 units). Just the same, the city’s total residential groundbreakings last year were only half of their previous peak level of 34,200 units in 2005. Multiple-unit starts as a percentage of total starts in Tampa have not moved as sharply higher as in many other locales. From 2000 to 2016, the share claimed by multiples was 33.2%; from 2010 to 2016, 37.7%; and in 2016, 37.8%.
Denver MSA (2.8 million people), which is nineteenth most populous in the nation, nabbed a tenth-place spot for total housing starts in 2016 (21,300 units). Both single-family and multi-family construction has been on the mend. A projection of the upward slope of the curve for total annual starts would soon take it to its previous peak of nearly 27,000 units in each of 2000 and 2001. Multi-family starts as a slice of Denver’s total starts were 39.5% on average from 2000 to 2016; 48.1% from 2010 to 2016; and they broke through the halfway threshold in 2016, 52.1%.
St. Louis (2.8 million) is the twentieth largest U.S. city, by population. In 2016, new home starts in that city (7,900 units) ranked thirtieth among all MSA brethren. Single-family starts have stayed mostly moribund in St. Louis since the Great Recession. To the extent that some uptick in total starts has occurred, it has originated in the multi-family segment of homebuilding. Multi-family starts as a percentage of the city’s total were an almost miniscule 22.0% on average from 2000 to 2016; moving up to 27.5% on average from 2010 to 2016; and reaching 32.9% last year.
Some eagle-eyed readers may have deduced that the thirteenth and fourteenth ranked MSAs in the U.S. for population, Riverside (4.5 million people) and Detroit (4.3 million), have been omitted from foregoing write-ups. In 2016, Riverside (10,000 units) ranked twenty-fourth for total housing starts and Detroit (7,500 units), thirty-second.
There were a number of other cities, however, not among the Top 20 for population, that did make it into the Top 20 for total housing starts in 2016: Orlando (23,300 units) in ninth spot; Charlotte (19,400 units) in twelfth; Nashville (18,600 units) in fourteenth position; Portland (14,700 units) in seventeenth; and Raleigh (13,500 units) in nineteenth.