National vacancy rates for rental units in the fourth quarter increased from a year earlier, while homeowner vacancies remained virtually the same, the Department of Commerce’s Census Bureau announced today.

Rental housing vacancy rates were 10.2 percent in the fourth quarter, up from 2002’s fourth-quarter revised rate of 9.3 percent, and slightly higher than the third quarter’s 9.9 percent rate.

Homeowner housing vacancy rates in the fourth quarter were at 1.8 percent, virtually unchanged from the year-ago rate of 1.7 percent, but lower than the third quarter’s 1.9 percent rate.

For rental housing, the suburbs (9.7 percent) had the lowest vacancy rate, while rates outside metropolitan areas (10.6 percent) and in central cities (10.4 percent) were not different from each other. The rental vacancy rates in central cities and in the suburbs were higher than their corresponding rates in revised fourth quarter 2002, but no change occurred outside metro areas for the same time period. Similarly, the homeowner vacancy rate was also lowest in the suburbs (1.6 percent) while rates outside metro areas (2.1 percent) and in central cities (2 percent) were not different from each other. There were no significant changes in homeowner vacancy rates for areas from the respective rates a year ago.

Among regions, the rates for rental vacancies ranked from lowest in the Northeast (6.9 percent) to 8 percent in the West, followed by 11.3 percent in the Midwest and highest in the South (12.9 percent). In the Northeast, the Midwest and the West, the respective rates were higher than a year ago, while those in the South were statistically unchanged during the period.

The regional homeowner vacancy rates followed the same trend as renters, where they were lowest in the Northeast (1.1 percent) and highest in the South (2.2 percent). The Midwest (1.7 percent) and the West (1.6 percent) were not different from each other. During the past year, the homeowner vacancy rate increased in the South, while no changes occurred for the other regions.

There were an estimated 121.4 million housing units in the United States in the fourth quarter 2003.

Approximately 105.9 million housing units were occupied: 72.7 million by owners and 33.2 million by renters. The number of owner-occupied units increased from the revised fourth quarter 2002 estimate, while the number of renter-occupied units did not change. Of the 15.6 million vacant housing units, 11.8 million were for year-round use. Approximately 3.8 million of the year-round vacant units were for rent, 1.3 million were for sale only, and the remaining 6.7 million units were vacant for a variety of other reasons.

While the home ownership rate (68.6 percent) for the fourth quarter was higher than the revised fourth quarter 2002 rate (68.3 percent), it was not different from the rate last quarter (68.4 percent).

During the fourth quarter 2003, the home ownership rate by region was highest in the Midwest (73.5 percent), while the South (70.5 percent) ranked second, the Northeast (64.7 percent) was third and the West (63.8 percent) had the lowest rate. The West increased from a year ago when it was at 62.5 percent, while the other regions did not change during the same period.

For fourth quarter 2003, the home ownership rates by age of householder ranged from 42.7 percent for those under 35 years of age to 81.3 percent for those aged 55 to 64. The group aged 45 to 54, which increased from 76.4 percent to 77.2 percent, was the only category to change during the past year.

The fourth quarter 2003 home ownership rates, when tabulated by race and ethnicity, were 75.5 percent for non-Hispanic White (single race) householders, 49.4 percent for those who indicated that they were Black (and no other race), and 56.8 percent for householders who were of any of the other races (see note below). The home ownership rate for Hispanic or Latino householders, who can be of any race, was 47.7 percent.

For fourth quarter 2003, the home ownership rates for households with family incomes greater than or equal to the median family income (83.6 percent) and for those with incomes less than the median (52.1 percent) were not statistically different from their respective rates a year ago.

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