Downturn demolishes local building activity

Building permits issued in Jackson County dropped 27.1 percent in the first five months of 2009 compared with the same period in 2008, according to figures compiled by the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Local municipalities and the county issued a total of 132 permits for new construction through May 31, down substantially from the 181 permits issued during the first five months of 2008.

While Medford saw only a slight drop from a year ago, single-family residence permits countywide slipped 25.9 percent to 123, down from 166 in 2008.

"Last year was bad and this year looks a little worse," said Randy Jones, vice president of the Home Builders of Jackson County and an Oregon Home Builders Association board member. "If you're looking at the general numbers though, there has probably been an uptick in remodeling."

He said the majority of new starts were houses in the $200,000 range.

"There is some very high-end stuff, because the pricing is very good and people with access to money can get really good values," Jones said. "But when you get to that $300,000 to $600,000 range, there has been very little new construction. That's where the middle-income wage earner is and that part of the market just hasn't bounced back."

The residential building industry collapsed in the wake of the subprime lending debacle and the credit crunch that followed.

When the OHBA board of directors meets in Bend later this month, it will be looking for ways to break out of the doldrums.

"All the stimulus (programs) haven't done a thing for the builder's side of America," Jones said. "There hasn't been any real help there. We're going to be looking at what it's going to take to get building on track. As an industry, we're working more toward green building, educating builders and consumers on that."

Medford saw just a 6 percent decline in single-family starts during the first five months of the year, with 47 issued compared with 50 last year. There were no multiple-family permits issued in the city during the first eight months in 2008, but two duplexes were picked up this spring.

In Ashland, there were nine single-family residence permits issued through May, one more than last year.

Just seven multi-family permits were issued during that period, after 15 were given out last year. Central Point single-family permits fell by two-thirds, while Eagle Point saw a decline of a third.

"When you have as high unemployment (12.2 percent) as our state has, it affects people's ability to purchase," Jones said. "I think we're seeing a bit of pent-up demand. People are looking at what's happening at the federal level and trying to figure out how secure they are with their futures."

Reach reporter Greg Stiles at 776-4463 or e-mail

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