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Fewer boarded-up homes: Vacancy rate for US housing falls to pre-bust levels

In the final quarter of 2012, the vacancy rate was 1.9 percent of homeowner housing, and 8.7 percent of the rental housing market, according to a new census report.

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In this Jan. photo, a construction worker works at a new home under construction in Chicago.

Nam Y. Huh/AP

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Across America fewer homes are boarded up. And fewer people are “doubled up,” sharing a tight apartment with friends or parents.

According to the Census Bureau, vacancy rates for residential housing in the United States have fallen to levels last seen before the peak of the housing boom in 2006 and the subsequent recession.

In the final quarter of 2012, the vacancy rate was 1.9 percent of homeowner housing, and 8.7 percent of the rental housing market. That’s down from rates as high as 2.9 percent (2008) in the owner market and 11.1 percent (mid-2009) for rentals.

The census numbers, released in an annual vacancy report Wednesday, add to other indications of rising strength in the US housing market – from rising home prices to home-builder enthusiasm and investor activity.

“As long as the economy is adding jobs and growing, housing is going to continue improving,” says Patrick Newport, an economist who follows real estate at the forecasting firm IHS Global Insight in Lexington, Mass.

Two main drivers of progress for the housing market over the past year have been the persistence of low interest rates and the tightening supply of homes available for purchase.

“And since we're not building at normal rates ... the supply keeps getting tighter,” he says.

Of course, rising home prices are a mixed blessing. Owners feel rising wealth, and lenders feel greater confidence about making home loans. But it means the cost of housing, for potential buyers and renters, is going up.

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