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U.S. Housing Starts Near 1945 Levels

In 2008, the number of single-family housing starts approached levels not seen since 1945.

Go ahead. Read it again. We were crossing the bridge at Remagen and preparing to drop Little Boy and Fat Man. We were on a war footing, when all sectors of the economy were at a near-standstill while we devoted our financial and industrial resources toward ending a world war.

Sixty-four years later, the housing industry is again at a near-standstill, courtesy of reckless home buyers and lenders, not to mention the feckless politicians who encouraged this disaster because they wanted more voters to own a home.

For custom installers, opportunities in the new-home segment shrank in 2008 to only about a third of what it was during the housing industry’s peak year of 2005

[1.72 million starts in 2005 compared to 2008’s 622,400, down 40 percent from the previous year], Census Bureau statistics show (see table).

To put it in a little perspective, which is often lacking on the Web these days (don’t get me started), 2008 starts fell below the 662,600 starts posted in 1982, when the nation endured its worst recession since the Great Depression and interest rates approached 20 percent.

How about a little more perspective? Single-family housing starts in 2008 were at their lowest level since 1945’s 325,000, a spokesman for the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) confirmed. “The Census Bureau has maintained the current housing starts series beginning in 1959,” he said. “It appears that 2008’s single-family total was the lowest for this series. However, prior to 1959, the U.S. Department of Labor maintained a somewhat similar series (somewhat), and their data show that 2008’s figure is the lowest for single-family starts since 1945’s 325,000.”

Starts in 2008 were still more the double 1945’s levels, but in 2009, we’re going to get a bit closer to 1945 levels, according to the latest NAHB forecast. The builders’ association forecasts a 26 percent drop to 461,000 units in 2009.

In 2010, however, home building will accelerate, NAHB contends. The association forecasts a 44 percent gain to 664,000 single-family starts.

One word of caution: NAHB has consistently pushed back the start date for the housing industry’s turnaround. So don’t be surprised if we relive at least one event from 1945.