The Census Bureau’s Housing Vacancy Survey (CPS/HVS) reported the U.S. homeownership rate declined to 65.8% in the fourth quarter of 2020. The national homeowner vacancy rate decreased over the fourth quarter of 2019 while the rental vacancy rate stayed flat.
However, technical issues involved with data collection changes limit useful comparisons of the data of the last three quarters of 2020 with the prior data series. We have noted the last three quarter homeownership rate data with a dashed line below to denote these technical changes and encourage readers to consider these data points separately from the existing data series.
The data collection changes during the COVID-19 pandemic period likely affected the estimates of homeownership rates, vacancy rates, and the components of housing inventory, with the exception of total housing inventory unaffected. Compared to the second quarter when all in-person interviews were replaced by telephone contact attempts, in-person interviews were gradually resumed in the third quarter of 2020. Only 39% of in-person cases were allowed in July, but 50% in August and 100% in September and in October. However, 98% of personal visits were carried out in November and only 84% in December, because in-person interviews were suspended in some local areas. The overall response rate for the fourth quarter of 2020 was 79%, 8 percentage points higher than the 71% response rate for the third quarter 2020. However, it was 4 percentage points lower than the 83% response rate for the fourth quarter 2019.
All things considered, the CPS/HVS data collection issues make comparing the last three quarter estimates to previous quarters challenging. Furthermore, it is impossible to tell whether the changes in homeownership rates, vacancy rates and changes in housing inventory components are due to the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic or the effects of data collection issues.
Looking forward, the Census Bureau hopes, but is not certain that in-person data collection will be allowed nationwide in the first quarter of 2021. But another method of “drive-bys” were allowed in December 2020 to try to determine vacancy status.