Homeownership Slips to 1998 Rates

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home vacancy ratesThe rate of homeownership in America is back down to levels not seen since 1998, according to Census data released Wednesday.

The homeownership rate in the first quarter of 2011 fell to 66.4 percent, down a tick from 66.5 percent in Q4 of 2010. It marks the lowest rate of homeownership since the last quarter of 1998.

After riding the crest of the housing boom through the mid-2000s, the rate of homeownership peaked in the first quarter of 2005, at 69.1 percent. With a few exceptions, prompted in part by federal stimulus programs such as the home buyer tax credit, the rate has since steadily declined.

Meanwhile, the U.S. home vacancy rate, which measures the proportion of empty homes for sale, dropped to 2.6 percent in Q1 of this year, down from 2.7 percent in Q4 2010. The rate remains statistically unchanged, however, from the year-ago period. Part of the reason for the holding pattern in home vacancy rates is the ongoing investigation of major lenders in connection with faulty foreclosure proceedings.

The rental vacancy rate increased to 9.7 percent, up from 9.4 percent from Q4 2010. This time last year, the rental vacancy rate was higher, at 10.6 percent.

As of the latest data, the total U.S. housing inventory was an estimated 131 million units with 112 million occupied properties.

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