More evidence that a shortage in available housing is looming was found in the Census Bureau’s release on Friday of its quarterly estimates for residential vacancies and homeownership. For the second quarter, Census estimates there were 18,513 vacant housing units in the U.S., or just under 14% of all housing units. The vacancy number fell slightly from the second quarter of 2011.

Rental units account for just under 30% of all housing, and the vacancy rate for rental housing in the second quarter stood at 8.6%, compared to 9.2% in the second quarter of 2011 and 8.8% in the first quarter of 2012.

There were 2.1% vacancies of owner-occupied homes in the second quarter, versus 2.5% in the same quarter a year ago and 2.2% in the first quarter of this year. The median asking price for vacant for-sale units was $134,600, representing a slight uptick from the previous quarter.

Census reports that rental vacancies were higher in urban centers than the suburbs, and actually expanded a bit in the exurbs. The Northeast continued to have the lowest rental and owner-occupied vacancies rates among the country’s four geographic quadrants.

The nation’s homeownership rate in the second quarter was 65.5%, up one-tenth of a point from the first quarter but down from the 65.9% rate a year ago. In fact, the homeownership rate has fallen in the second quarter of every year since 2004.

The latest quarterly ownership rates were highest in the Midwest and lowest in the West. Perhaps most alarming to builders was the finding that the downward trajectory of ownership rates among people under 35 years old continued. In the second quarter it was 36.5%; by comparison, 42.3% of people in this age group owned homes in the second quarter of 2006.

Ownership rates among Hispanics and African Americans were also off, year-to-year, in the second quarter, as was the rate for non-Hispanic whites. Slightly more than half of households with incomes below their market’s median family income owned their homes in the second quarters of this year and last. However, households whose incomes are equal to or greater than that median actually lost a little ground as homeowners in the latest quarter compared to a year ago.

John Caulfield is senior editor for Builder.

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