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U.S. adds millions of housing units. But only some states and cities gained ground.

The United States saw the total number of housing units grow by 6.7% from 2010 to 2020 to more than 140.49 million, according to fresh data from the U.S. Census Bureau.

But new housing was not spread evenly across the country. Nowhere is that more evident than McKenzie County, North Dakota, which saw the biggest percentage increase in housing units over the last decade, to 7,661 in 2020 from 3,090 in 2010. The District of Columbia saw the biggest percentage increase of any state or state equivalent (which includes territories) with an 18.1% increase over the last decade.

West Virginia was the only state that saw a decrease, with a 3% drop in housing units over the last decade, according to the Census Bureau. Puerto Rico also saw a 2.4% drop in housing units.

One pattern is clear. Metro areas and smaller cities gained housing units, while rural counties and those outside those metropolitan areas lost housing units.

“While the national number of housing units grew over the past decade, this was not uniform throughout the country,” said Evan Brassell, chief of the Housing Statistics Branch in the Census Bureau’s Social, Economic and Housing Statistics Division in a news release. “Counties that composed some part of a metropolitan or micropolitan area saw increases of 3.8%, on average, while counties outside of these areas showed decreases of 3.9% on average.”

But the growth in housing units has slowed, at just half the rate of growth the United States saw during the previous decade, from 2000 to 2010. The slowdown was in part because the housing boom in the early- to mid-2000s contributed rapidly to supply, while the Great Recession slowed that growth. From 2000 to 2010, housing units grew by 15.8 million units, or 13.6%.

Much of the growth came from the South and West. Out of the five counties that saw growth of 500,000 or more housing units, three were in Texas, including Travis, Bexar and Harris. Travis County saw a 27.5% jump in housing units, with Bexar at 19.8% and Harris at 15.3% growth. After D.C., Utah came in as the next state with the highest housing unit growth, at 17.5%, followed by North Dakota with 16.7% growth and Texas at 16.2%.

Overall, the U.S. population grew by about 7.4% over the last 10 years, by 22.7 million to 331.44 million, according to the new Census data.

The new housing numbers are sure to fuel the ongoing debate about the lack of affordable housing. A June study by the National Association of Realtors called the state of the nation’s housing stock “dire” and that the country was suffering from a chronic shortage of affordable and available homes. The United States underbuilt new housing to the tune of about 5.5 million over the last 20 years, according to the report.

The Joint Center for Housing Studies at Harvard University called it an “increasingly acute shortage of homes for sale” in a recent report, pointing to an underproduction of new homes built since the mid-2000s. Without new construction of housing units, many homeowners opt to stay in their older homes, and that does not free up existing units to new buyers, further constraining supply, according to the report.

The areas that gained the most housing units by percentage change include:

  1. Williston, North Dakota: 93.%
  2. Dickinson, North Dakota: 42.2%
  3. The Villages, Florida: 42%
  4. Austin-Round Rock-Georgetown, Texas: 34%
  5. Provo-Orem, Utah: 29.3%
  6. St. George, Utah: 29.1%
  7. Midland, Texas: 29.1%
  8. Bozeman, Montana: 24.9%
  9. Odessa, Texas: 24.6%
  10. Greeley, Colorado: 24.6%

The areas with the largest drops in housing units over the last decade include:

  1. Helena-West Helena, Arkansas: -17.9%
  2. Middlesborough, Kentucky: -12.4%
  3. Forrest City, Arkansas: -12.3%
  4. Mount Gay-Shamrock, West Virginia: – 12%
  5. Camden, Arkansas: -10.8%
  6. Bradford, Pennsylvania: -8.5%
  7. Warren, Pennsylvania: -8.4%
  8. Lumberton, North Carolina: -8.2%
  9. Cordele, Georgia: -8.2%
  10. Pine Bluff, Arkansas: -8.2%

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