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What Happens to Household Formation in a Recession?

Gary Painter
The present economic downturn has been, by many measures, the most severe since the Great Depression. The housing market has been hammered by large declines in real house prices, caused in part by the collapse of the housing finance system and by continued job losses. While the difficulties in the housing market affect the entire country, some areas (Arizona, Florida, Nevada, and California) have experienced much steeper declines in home prices and overall housing market activity. The national homeownership rate has declined from a peak above 69 percent to just over 67 percent, with homeownership rates for some minority groups falling by an even greater extent. At the same time, homeowner vacancy rates have increased markedly over the past few years (Figure 1), and rental vacancy rates also have drifted upwards. This naturally begs the question: Where have these households gone?