The national home-ownership rate remained roughly flat at 68.9 percent in the fourth quarter, compared with 69 percent in third-quarter 2006 and in fourth-quarter 2005, the U.S. Census Bureau reported this week.

The rate was 64.5 percent in the West, 65.3 percent in the Northeast, 70.8 percent in the South and 73 percent in the Midwest. The rate in the West dropped from 65.3 percent in the third quarter but was comparable to the fourth-quarter-2005 rate of 64.6 percent.

The home-ownership rate was 81.2 percent for those aged 65 and up, 80.7 percent for those 55-64, 76.4 percent for those 45-54, 68.9 percent for those 35-44, and 42.8 percent for those under 35, the Census Bureau reported. These rates remained roughly flat compared to rates in the third quarter.

The rate of home ownership rose from 80.6 percent for those 65 and up in fourth-quarter 2005 while falling from 69.7 percent for those 35-44, and also dropped from 76.7 percent for those 45-54 and from 43.1 percent for those under 35. In fourth-quarter 2005, the home-ownership rate was the same for those 55-64 and those 65 and up.

Among racial categories, the home-ownership rate for “non-Hispanic white” householders reporting a single race was highest at 76 percent. “All other races” householders was next at 60 percent, and “single-race black” householders was lowest with a rate of 48.2 percent, according to the report, and home-ownership rates for each racial category were statistically unchanged from their respective rates last year.

The rate for Hispanic householders (who can be of any race) at 49.5 percent was not statistically different from last year’s rate.

National vacancy rates in fourth-quarter 2006 were about 9.8 percent for rental housing, compared with a vacancy rate of 9.6 percent in fourth-quarter 2005 and 9.9 percent in third-quarter 2006. And the national vacancy rate was 2.7 percent for homeowner housing, compared with 2 percent in fourth-quarter 2005 and 2.5 percent in third-quarter 2006.

For rental housing by area, the fourth-quarter-2006 vacancy rate was 9.5 percent in the suburbs, 10.1 percent in principal cities and 9.7 percent outside metro areas. “In the suburbs and outside (metropolitan statistical areas) there were no statistically measurable changes in the respective rental vacancy rates from a year ago, while the rate inside principal cities was higher than last year.”

The homeowner vacancy rate in principal cities, at 3.6 percent, was higher than the 2.4 percent rate in the suburbs and 2.3 percent rate outside metro areas. When compared to a year ago, the homeowner vacancy rates inside principal cities and in the suburbs were higher, while the rate outside metropolitan statistical areas was not statistically different, the Census Bureau reported.

Among regions, the rental vacancy rates for the current quarter were highest in the South at 12.4 percent and the Midwest at 11.9 percent. The rate was lowest in the Northeast at 6.5 percent and the West at 7 percent. The rental vacancy rates in each region were not statistically different from their respective rates last year.

Regional homeowner vacancy rates for fourth-quarter 2006 were highest in the Midwest at 2.9 percent and the South at 3 percent and were lowest in the West at 2.4 percent and the Northeast at 2 percent. The homeowner vacancy rates in each region were higher than their respective rates a year ago, according to the report.

There were an estimated 126.7 million housing units in the United States in fourth-quarter 2006, compared with 124.5 million in fourth-quarter 2005. About 109.9 million housing units were occupied (75.8 million by owners and 34.2 million by renters) — in the fourth quarter, compared with 108.9 million occupied in fourth-quarter 2005 (75.2 million by owners and 33.7 million by renters).

Of the 16.7 million vacant housing units, 12.7 million were for year-round use. About 3.8 million of the year-round vacant units were for rent, 2.1 million were for sale only, and the remaining 6.8 million units were vacant for a variety of other reasons, according to the report.

When adjusted for seasonal variation, the fourth-quarter home-ownership rate was 68.7 percent, which is not statistically different from last year’s seasonally adjusted rate of 68.8 percent and the third-quarter-2005 rate of 68.9 percent, the Census Bureau noted.

In fourth-quarter 2006 the home-ownership rates for households with family incomes greater than or equal to the median family income, at 84.5 percent, and for those with family incomes less than the median family income, at 52.9 percent, were not statistically different from their respective rates last year, according to the report.

The estimates in this Census report are based on a sample survey and are subject to sampling and nonsampling error — sampling error is a result of not surveying the entire population, and nonsampling error occurs because accurate information cannot always be obtained, the Census Bureau reported.

The rental vacancy rate is the proportion of the rental inventory that is vacant for rent, and the homeowner vacancy rate is the proportion of the homeowner inventory that is vacant for sale. The home-ownership rate is the proportion of households that is owner-occupied — it is computed by dividing the number of households that are occupied by owners by the total number of occupied households.

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