The Census Bureau’s Housing Vacancy Survey (CPS/HVS) reported the U.S. homeownership rate dipped to 65.6% in the first quarter of 2021. The national homeowner vacancy rate declined to a record low of 0.9%, while the rental vacancy rate increased to 6.8%.
The data collections were still affected by the pandemic, although to a much less degree than previous three quarters. However, technical issues involved with data collection changes limit useful comparisons of the data since the onsets of pandemic with the prior data series. We have noted the last four quarter homeownership rate data with a dotted line below to denote these technical changes and encourage readers to consider these data points separately from the existing data series. Nonetheless, this quarter likely returns the series to a more apples-to-apples comparison with the prior history of the 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. In the first quarter of 2021, 98% of in-person interviews were carried out nationwide. The overall response rate for the first quarter of 2021 was 78%, around 1 percentage points lower than the 79% response rate for the first and fourth quarter 2020.
All things considered, the CPS/HVS data collection issues make comparing the last four quarterly changes to previous quarters challenging. Looking forward, the Census Bureau is not yet certain whether in-person interviews will be allowed nationwide in the second quarter of 2021. But it looks promising as 98% of the country was open for in-person data collection in the first quarter of 2021.
Nonetheless, the 65.5% homeownership reading for the start of 2021 is a reasonable starting place to determine the effects of the strong housing market of 2020.