After falling off in February, the number of new home starts in the Tri-Cities jumped last month.
Jeff Losey, executive director of the Home Builders Association of Tri-Cities, said he couldn't pinpoint any particular reason why housing starts dropped from 134 in January to 94 in February, but said the number often vacillates in the winter when weather can hamper building.
But building permits issued for new homes shot back up to 147 in March, which Losey said shows a typical seasonal increase as spring weather arrives.
Still, home building in the Tri-Cities has dropped compared with the same period last year. Through March, 375 permits had been issued this year, down almost 20 percent from the 465 permits issued at the same point in 2010.
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The total value of single-family residence permits issued so far this year was $93.3 million, just a 10 percent drop when compared with $104.2 million last year.
And the figures this year are dramatically better than in 2009, when the worst of the housing market crash hit the Tri-Cities. The $36.3 million for all single-family building permits issued last month only was more than the $35.2 million in home permits issued for the first three months of 2009.
Austin Roupe, marketing director of Envision Homes, which builds Tri-City homes, attributed the drop to the fact a federal tax credit for first-time home buyers expired last April. He said many buyers scrambled to get the $8,000 credits last year before they expired.
But Roupe said he is seeing increased activity with the arrival of spring and people coming out more and looking at homes.
The biggest jump in home building was been in Kennewick, where 44 home building permits were issued in March, up from 21 in February.
Ryszard Sliwinski, owner of R.S. Construction, got nine of the permits Kennewick issued in March. He is building nine townhouses on South Dawes Street, across from EdisonElementary, that he expects to complete by mid-July.
Home building also has picked up in Pasco. In March, the city issued 53 building permits for new homes, up from 31 in February.
Figures also rose in the rural parts of Benton County. The county issued 10 home building permits, up from 4 in February.
In Richland, 20 permits were issued, down one from the month before. And West Richland issued 14 permits, up from 12 in February.
Losey said the drop in housing starts so far could be because of the announcement earlier this year that an expected 1,600 Hanford workers will be laid off by the end of September. The first layoffs took place last month.
But Losey said this year's figures still are not that far off last year's figures. "I don't think there's any concern for (how far) we are off from the prior year," he said.
He said he also has seen a positive trend in the number of builders who already have applied to have their homes featured in this year's Parade of Homes.
So far, 20 builders have applied to have their homes featured in the event that takes place Sept. 10, 11, 14, 17 and 18, Losey said.
Last year, the Home Builders Association accepted applications through June and featured 28 homes in the showcase of new homes.
Losey thinks things are on track for a similar number of homes this year.
"Many communities can't do a Parade of Homes because they don't have the construction," he said. "We're pretty thankful in the Tri-Cities and the economy that surrounds us that we're still able to do that."
* Kathy Korengel: 509-582-1541; email@example.com