Housing construction plunged by more than a third in the Toledo area last year as builders nationwide suffered through the worst drought since the U.S. Commerce Department began keeping records during the Eisenhower administration.
"It's tough," said contractor Dan Bollin, who is president of the Home Builders Association of Greater Toledo Inc. "We could use a little relief."
Nationally, housing starts slipped in December to an annualized rate of 550,000, which was the lowest level since the onset of recordkeeping in 1959, Commerce Department officials said in a report yesterday.
In the Toledo area, where plant closings and job cuts in the auto industry have been especially severe, residential construction slumped as much as 53 percent, according to figures provided by local government officials and the Home Builders Association.
"This has got to be one of the worst years," said Mike Rudley chief building official in Wood County, where the number of houses sprouting out of the ground in 2008 dropped 35 percent to 177.
In Lucas County, including Toledo and suburbs such as Sylvania, Monclova, and Springfield townships, starts slipped 34 percent to 294.
The biggest drop, however, was across the Michigan border in Bedford Township, where home construction declined by 53 percent to 37. That was the lowest number of starts since 1982, according to township officials.
Construction last year in the Monroe County community was a fraction of this decade's peak of 239 in 2004.
Nationwide, housing starts slipped 33 percent to 905,300 from 1.3 million in 2007. The lower annualized number shows how many houses would have been built across the country if the severely depressed December levels had existed through 2008.
U.S. builders responded by slashing prices, industry analysts said.
In metro Toledo, the decline can be seen in the reduced membership roster of the Home Builders Association. Twenty of the organization's 136 builder-members either stopped paying dues or exited the business over the past year.
"We hope that has bottomed out," said Tony Plath, executive vice president. "We may lose a few through 2009, but we think we're at the end of it.
Consumer confidence and job loss are at the root of the problem locally, organization officials said.
"The buying public is very nervous about the economy," Mr. Plath continued. "Everybody is hunkered down and afraid to build."
Officials of the organization hope the mood of the country will improve with the inauguration of President Obama, who has promised to use up to $100 billion in financial-rescue funds to reduce the mortgage crisis.
An economist at Moody's Economy.com has predicted weak demand and excess supply will keep construction of new homes down until 2011.
The president of the Toledo Home Builders Association hopes conditions improve sooner. "We've lost members and a lot of subcontractors and suppliers are struggling now," said Mr. Bollin, president of Eagle Creek Builders, Toledo.
"It always gets worse in the winter," he added. "It's hard to see if anything is going to move yet. Time will tell in the next couple months."
Bloomberg News Service contributed to this report.
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