House permits plunged 65% in September Baltimore area joins rest of nation in decline

November 04, 1990|By Timothy J. Mullaney

The number of single-family residential building permits issued in metropolitan Baltimore fell 65 percent in September, compared to September 1989, according to the Baltimore Regional Council of Governments.

The permit data confirms what sagging sales of new homes had suggested: that after a period of holding almost steady while the national homebuilding industry sagged into recession, the Baltimore new-home market is joining the rest of the nation in a cyclical decline.

Only 583 single-family permits were approved during September DTC in Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Carroll, Harford and Howard counties and Baltimore City in September -- much less than the 810 approved in Howard alone in September 1989.

Multifamily housing, or apartments and condominiums, is even more sluggish. The Council of Governments said only 12 apartments won building permits in September -- almost a 95 percent drop from last September.

But there were reasons other than a sluggish market that explain much of the decline, the council said.

Howard County's 18-month clampdown on the number of available building permits have kept building in that county slow all year. In addition, the law inflated the number of permits issued last year because builders moved up their schedules and got extra permits before the law took effect.

Also, the number of apartment permits approved last year was inflated because builders wanted to get permits before a new federal law went into effect early this year. The new law demands design changes to make apartments easier for handicapped people to live in. Developers have contended that those changes will add thousands of dollars to the cost of rental units, and many moved up their construction plans so they could build under the old standards.

But even for single-family homes outside Howard County, the class of permits least affected by regulatory changes, the decline was clear. Every county in the region, as well as Baltimore City, approved fewer single-family building permits in September 1990 than September 1989.

Counties throughout the region have approved 7,325 single-family homes this year, down 28 percent from 10,147 in the first nine months of 1989.

But almost all of the year-to-date decline is due to a drop of 2,636 home permits in Howard County, most of which was caused by the growth-limitation law rather than weak markets.

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