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May 2017

U.S. homeownership rate edging up

For the first time in a decade, new owner households edged out new renters. Household formation also rose slightly during first quarter 2017 compared to the same period a year ago.

Recent figures from the Census Department show strong gains in the homeownership rate among minorities.

Overall American homeownership was at 63.6 percent in this year's first quarter. Although that slipped slightly from the 63.7 percent for the fourth quarter of 2016, the year-over-year figure improved slightly. The homeownership rate had been shrinking since the peak of the housing bubble a decade ago.

The latest Census figures show a gain of 850,000 in the number of new owner households, while renter households increased by 365,000, prompting one well-known economist to describe the magnitude of that spread as "striking." 

In an interview with MarketWatch, economist Ralph McLaughlin said the latest figures are "very optimistic news for those who are interested in the homeownership rate."  McLaughlin, the chief economist at Trulia, acknowledged one quarter doesn't make a trend, but noted it's "the first sign we may be pivoting away from renting and back toward ownership."

Census figures show homeownership rates among African-Americans rose 1.2 percentage points during this year's first quarter compared to the same timeframe a year ago. Hispanics notched a similar year-over-year gain, rising 1.3 percentage points to 46.6 percent. (While notable, both groups are still well below the 71.8 percent homeownership rate for whites.)