Data released Tuesday by the Commerce Dept. shows that the nation’s homeownership rate slid to 67.5 percent during the fourth quarter, levels last seen when our calendars flipped over to 2001. In other words, the much-touted homeownership gains of the entire previous Bush regime are now history. Gone. It’s amply clear now that the gains of the past eight years were illusory and temporary, created through unsustainable lending practices. The vacancy rate for owner-occupied homes rose to 2.9 percent in the fourth quarter of 2008, as well, up from 2.8 percent in the linked quarter and year-ago period — matching the all-time high during the first quarter last year. Rental vacancies rose to 10.1 percent, meaning 2008 saw three quarters with rental vacancies in double digits; the only other time since 1995 that has been observed was in 2004, when all four quarters recorded 10 percent or greater rental vacancies. Prior to Q4 2005, the nation’s homeowner vacancy rate had never been above 2.0 percent; it has now been above that level for 13 straight quarters. Sidenotes: The Calculated Risk blog has a good overview of the numbers and an assessment of excess housing inventory spanning rentals, existing residential and new homes, and arrives at a number we think is close to correct: there are 1.87 million excess housing units in the U.S. that need to be absorbed, not accounting for shadow inventory of REO and other properties that are likely to add to those totals. The full dataset is available here. Write to Paul Jackson at

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