Homeownership, vacancy rates roughly flat in Q1

Census: Higher vacancy rates in South, Midwest

Home vacancies and the nation’s homeownership rate were roughly flat in the first quarter of 2011 compared to the same quarter last year, according to U.S. Census data released this week.

The rate of home vacancies, at 2.6 percent, was unchanged compared to first-quarter 2010, though was well above levels seen before the beginning of the housing downturn in 2005, when it hit 2 percent for the first time since before 1996.

The U.S. homeownership rate, which government policies had helped boost to the brink of 70 percent by 2004, sat at 66.4 percent in the first quarter, down a slight and statistically insignificant 0.7 percent since the first quarter of 2010.

The rental vacancy rate in principal cities — the Census Bureau defines a principal city as the largest city in a given metropolitan or "micropolitan" area — was 9.8 percent, in the suburbs it was 9.3 percent, and outside of metropolitan statistical areas (MSAs) it was 10 percent. The differences were not statistically significant, the Census Bureau said.