Lane County Building Permits Rose in 2020 Despite COVID-19

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By Brian Rooney
 Regional Economist
 Douglas and Lane counties

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Building permit data from the U.S. Census Bureau shows that new housing construction in Lane County, as measured by permits for living units, rose to 1,391 in 2020 despite the COVID-19 pandemic. Although only two units above 2018, it is technically the highest post-Great Recession level, going back to 2007.

Building permits in Lane County peaked in 2005 before the Great Recession and dropped dramatically from 2006 to 2010. That recession was characterized by job losses and mortgage foreclosures, which led to additional housing on the market and less demand, increasing the inventory of available housing. Since then, the level of permits as measured by living units has remained low compared with prerecession levels even as inventory has tightened.

The increase in building permits in 2020 is likely driven by increased housing demand and prices. According to the database, demand as measured by median days on the market dropped from 73 days in January 2020 to less than 60 days in February and stayed there the rest of the year. Correspondingly, price increases as measured by Zillow’s Home Value Index accelerated, going from an increase of 6.6% in 2019 to 11.2% in 2020.

The construction industry in Lane County may have benefitted from the strong housing market. Annual average employment data shows that the construction industry was one of the least affected by COVID restrictions, losing only 200 jobs, or 2.6%, compared with 7.4% for total employment.

The 2020 building permit data showed a small increase in single-family construction going from 731 units in 2019 to 761 in 2020. There was a larger increase in multi-unit buildings especially with five or more units, which went from 304 units in 2019 to 539 in 2020.

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