Housing starts gained 4.3% in May as construction crews returned to building sites amid an easing of COVID-19 restrictions, according to a government report published on Wednesday.
Builders broke ground on 974,000 homes last month, from an upwardly revised 934,000 in April, the Commerce Department said. Single-family starts were at an annual rate of 675,000, up 0.1% from a month earlier.
Housing starts surged 21.5% in the West and 12.8% in the Northeast, where COVID-19 restrictions were the tightest, the government report said. New construction dropped 16% in the South and 1.5% in the Midwest.
While May data showed a gain in new construction nationwide, the starts were down 23% from the year-earlier month, the data showed. More supply is needed to meet the demand from homebuyers, said Lawrence Yun, chief economist of the National Association of Realtors.
“Though housing starts in May recovered slightly from the prior month, this marks two consecutive months of depressed levels – down by more than 20% from one year ago – due to the disruption from the economic lockdown,” Yun said. “Significant growth in new home construction, however, is required in the upcoming months and possibly even stretching into the next three years.”
Before the COVID-19 pandemic hit the U.S., the nation had a shortage of about 5 to 6 million homes after a decade of underproduction because there were so many homebuilders put out of business by the 2008 financial crisis, Yun said.
The pandemic has intensified the housing shortage as some people put off listing properties because they didn’t want people coming through their homes.
Fewer homes on the market increases competition for the existing supply, and pushes home prices higher, Yun said. The number of homes on the market at the end of April was the lowest ever recorded for that month, he said.
“Home prices will be pushed higher thereby making ownership opportunities for first-time buyers more difficult,” Yun said. “More homes need to be built.”