Cellar dweller

Which comes first, people or houses? Massachusetts ranked a pitiful 48th in the increase of its housing supply from 2000 to 2004, but since the state ranked 44th in population growth, it can be argued that supply isn’t that far behind demand. Nationally, there were 6.8 million additional units for a population growth of 12.2 million, or one new house for every 1.8 new citizens. Here, there were 50,000 additional units for a population growth of 67,000, or one new house for every 1.4 new residents. The idea of a housing crunch may seem all the more puzzling when one looks at population change among 25- to 44-year-olds. (Over the course of this age category, homeownership rates rise from roughly one-third of the population to more than two-thirds.) All but four states recorded a loss of residents in this prime homebuying cohort, as members of the baby boom generation have moved into middle age; in Massachusetts, the decrease amounted to 215,000 people. Considering that the nation’s under-25 population rose by only 1.6 percent over the same period and actually fell by 0.8 percent in Massachusetts, will housing construction eventually lead to a housing glut?

Not necessarily. Housing demand is partially fuelled by an increase in single-person and childless households, the result of people marrying later and living longer. In Massachusetts, we must also ask whether a tight housing market is a self-fulfilling prophecy. In other words, is the small number of new homes a cause, rather than a symptom, of our stagnant population? The paucity of new homes in Massachusetts, along with Connecticut, New York, and Rhode Island, may keep property values high, but they may also make it tougher to attract people who are hoping to own a home. It’s notable that Michigan, New Jersey, Ohio, and Pennsylvania all saw their 25-44 populations drop by more than 10 percent and are still building houses at a much faster pace than we are. But job growth has been sluggish in almost every state during the first half of this decade, so it’s hard to tell whether more—and presumably more affordable— housing can boost a state’s economy. If the Rust Belt’s economy surpasses that of the Northeast over the next few years, we’ll have an answer.

INCREASE IN TOTAL HOUSING STOCK, 2000-04

Rank State Increase in housing units % change in housing units % population change % change age 25-44
1. Nevada 148,989 18.0 16.8 9.2
2. Arizona 269,042 12.3 12.0 2.2
3. Georgia 390,811 11.9 7.8 0.3
4. Colorado 202,448 11.2 7.0 -2.2
5. Utah 80,134 10.4 7.0 6.1
6. Florida 706,319 9.7 8.8 -6.1
7. Idaho 50,949 9.7 7.7 -2.3
8. North Carolina 337,744 9.6 6.1 -3.6
9. Texas 689,171 8.4 7.9 -0.9
10. South Carolina 137,096 7.8 4.6 -5.6
11. Virginia 212,395 7.3 5.4 -6.8
12. Delaware 24,376 7.1 6.0 -4.9
13. Minnesota 146,749 7.1 3.7 -8.3
14. Tennessee 155,627 6.4 3.7 -5.1
15. Washington 155,541 6.3 5.3 -5.8
16. Indiana 158,292 6.3 2.6 -9.1
17. Wisconsin 142,645 6.1 2.7 -10.0
18. South Dakota 19,413 6.0 2.1 -12.3
19. New Mexico 44,961 5.8 4.6 -8.0
20. Oregon 82,657 5.7 5.1 -5.1
21. Kentucky 91,853 5.2 2.6 -6.6
22. New Hampshire 28,647 5.2 5.2 -10.0
23. Arkansas 60,161 5.1 3.0 -7.2
24. Mississippi 59,288 5.1 2.0 -6.3
25. Missouri 122,337 5.0 2.8 -8.0
26. Iowa 60,446 4.9 1.0 -11.6
27. Maryland 105,050 4.9 4.9 -8.5
28. Nebraska 35,074 4.9 2.1 -10.1
29. Hawaii 22,331 4.8 4.2 -12.8
30. Alabama 95,117 4.8 1.9 -7.8
31. California 590,152 4.8 6.0 -4.1
32. Kansas 53,719 4.7 1.7 -10.1
33. Michigan 198,766 4.7 1.8 -10.7
34. Illinois 208,442 4.3 2.4 -8.2
35. Alaska 10,570 4.1 4.5 -11.8
36. Louisiana 72,685 3.9 1.0 -8.9
37. Wyoming 8,783 3.9 2.6 -11.2
38. Oklahoma 58,356 3.9 2.1 -7.3
39. North Dakota 11,136 3.8 -1.2 -14.6
40. Ohio 183,680 3.8 0.9 -11.6
41. Maine 24,766 3.8 3.3 -12.2
42. Vermont 9,909 3.4 2.1 -13.2
43. New Jersey 104,465 3.2 3.4 -10.1
44. West Virginia 22,318 2.6 0.4 -11.1
45. Pennsylvania 135,978 2.6 1.0 -14.4
46. Montana 10,629 2.6 2.7 -11.8
47. Connecticut 28,436 2.1 2.9 -13.6
48. Massachusetts 50,068 1.9 1.1 -10.8
49. New York 140,052 1.8 1.3 -9.6
50. Rhode Island 6,468 1.5 3.1 -10.2
US Total 6,766,796 5.8 4.3 -7.9

Source: US Census Bureau (www.census.gov). Note: Figures are rounded up to one decimal place, and there are no ties in the rankings.