The home-ownership rate continues to retreat from record highs, as the number of owner-occupied homes declined in a year when the nation added 2 million new housing units.

A new Census Bureau report shows the home-ownership rate slipped to 67.8 percent during the fourth quarter of 2007, down a full percentage point from 68.9 percent a year ago.

The home-ownership rate, which had hovered around 64 percent during the 1980s and early 1990s, began a steady upward climb in 1995. The rate broke the 69 percent threshold during three quarters in 2004 and 2005 before beginning a retreat last year.

Erosion of the home-ownership rate appeared to accelerate in the fourth quarter, falling 40 basis points from the 68.2 percent rate recorded in the second and third quarters of 2007.

At the regional level, the Midwest had the highest home-ownership rate (71.7 percent), followed by the South (70 percent), Northeast (64.6 percent) and West (62.7 percent). For the year, home-ownership rates declined in every region but the Northeast.

Home ownership was highest among whites (74.9 percent) and lowest among blacks (47.7 percent) and Hispanics (48.5 percent). At 83 percent, the rate of home ownership among families with incomes greater than the median far exceeded that for families with incomes below the median (50.9 percent).

Although the addition of 2 million new housing units in 2007 brought the nation’s housing stock up to 128.6 million units, the number of owner-occupied units actually declined by about 600,000, to 75.2 million. The number of occupied rental units grew by 1.5 million, to 35.7 million.

The 2 million housing units added in 2007 included 1.1 million vacant units, and the number of vacant properties climbed from 16.7 million to 17.8 million.

Of these vacant housing units, 13.3 million were for year-round use and 4.4 million were seasonal. Approximately 3.8 million of the year-round vacant units were for rent, 2.2 million were for sale only, and the remaining 7.3 million units were vacant for other reasons

National vacancy rates of both home-ownership and rental units remained statistically unchanged from a year ago. The homeowner vacancy rate, which until 2006 had not exceeded 2 percent for more than a decade, remained at 2.8 percent in the fourth quarter, statistically unchanged from a year ago.

At the regional level, homeowner vacancy rates were higher in the Midwest (3.2 percent) and South (2.9 percent), and lower in the West (2.7 percent) and Northeast (2.2 percent), although the differences in the South and West were not statistically significant.

The homeowner vacancy rate was higher in major cities (3.7 percent) and lower in the suburbs (2.4 percent).

At 9.6 percent, the national rental vacancy rate was also statistically unchanged from the 9.8 percent rate of a year ago. In the last decade, the rental vacancy rate has been as low as 7.5 percent in the first quarter of 1997, with a peak for the period of 10.4 percent in the first quarter of 2004.

At the regional level, rental vacancy rates were lower in the Northeast (6.6 percent) and West (6.8 percent), and higher in the Midwest (11.1 percent) and South (12.3 percent).

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