Clark County housing starts up in October

Dwindling supply of homes, low mortgage rates credited for 84% spike

By Cami Joner, Columbian retail & real estate reporter

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Home construction, traditionally one of the largest sectors of Clark County's economy, continued to pick up speed in October, according to figures released Thursday.

Experts say the 84 percent year-over-year increase in the county's October housing starts stemmed from dwindling supplies of new and existing houses for sale and historically low mortgage interest rates. In unincorporated Clark County, builders were issued 61 permits last month by Clark County's Community Development Department to construct single-family homes valued at $19.3 million total. The figure compares with 33 permits valued at $11.3 million in October 2011.

Last month was the ninth consecutive month showing a year-over-year increase in Clark County housing permits. The county has issued 494 permits to build single-family houses valued at $157.5 million in the first 10 months of this year. While up significantly from the 296 permits valued at $101.5 million issued in the first 10 months of 2011, Clark County's 2012 housing starts are still well below the height of the market. For example, the county issued 1,102 home permits valued at $235.5 million in the first 10 months of 2007.

Housing industry professionals say this year's figures indicate a return to near-normal production in Clark County, where the economic downturn and profound housing slump caused homebuilding to fall well below historical averages

"It's definitely not booming like it was, but it's getting back to more normal historical averages," said James Howsley, a land-use attorney with Jordan Ramis PC in Vancouver who also serves the 600-member Building Industry Association of Clark County.

Howsley said the national data he's seen predict steadily increasing housing starts through 2013 and 2014. Beyond 2014, homebuilding is expected to level off as builders work through an existing supply of available lots to build on.

"As we watch the rise in production, the lot creation isn't keeping pace with that," Howsley said. "We're going to see that in two to three years."

October homebuilding also increased within the boundaries of Vancouver, which handed out more than seven times the number of permits issued in the same month last year. The city's development department reported a total of 29 permits to build houses last month, up from four permits handed out in the same month last year.