Add one more achievement for the Tri-City economy in 2010 -- permits issued to build family homes increased 25 percent over 2009.
In addition, the permits' total value increased by 35 percent, or almost $95 million, according to the Home Builders Association of Tri-Cities, which compiled the statistics.
Home starts continued to be strong in Pasco, where 530 permits to build single-family residences were issued, and in Richland, where 341 permits were issued. Kennewick issued 283 permits.
"I can thank my lucky stars I live here," said Leo Bowman, Benton County Commission chairman at the commission meeting this week, as commissioners looked over county-by-county data compiled by the Building Industry Association of Washington.
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With that state association data covering just through August, several counties in Washington showed almost no residential building activity. Garfield County, for example, had no residential building permits issued and Columbia County had one.
The total number of single-family home permits in the Tri-City area for 2010 was 1,531, an increase from 1,227 in 2009 and 1,160 in 2008. Total value of the homes covered by the permits was $366.5 million in 2010, up from $271.9 million in 2009 and $266.2 million in 2008.
The First-Time Home Buyer Tax Credit, which expired at the end of April, contributed to the increase in housing starts in the Tri-Cities, said Jeff Losey, executive director the Home Builders Association of Tri-Cities.
"But we are also fortunate that a relatively strong and diverse economy helped to keep those numbers strong throughout the year," he said in a statement.
The number of permits issued for single-family homes in the Tri-City area this past year still is well below 2004 and 2005 in the Tri-Cities, when the national housing market was booming.
"We're at a level that is hopefully sustainable or able to increase for the long term, which will help our economy maintain its stability and strength," Losey said. The increase in the Tri-Cities now has been steady for two years.
Low interest rates contributed to the strong housing starts, said Renee Dahlgren of the local association.
But the Tri-Cities also has been fortunate to still have federal economic stimulus money being spent here, she said. The Hanford nuclear reservation received $1.96 billion to spend through September 2011.
Additional economic development also has attracted new people, she said.
Besides new jobs, the area's lifestyle and quality of life -- including mild weather, new shopping, community activities and the growth of wineries -- are attracting new residents, said Deb Blagan, vice president of sales and marketing for Hayden-Homes, which sells houses in the $130,000 to $250,000 price range.
Moderately priced homes and local municipalities that are pro-growth and have a strong focus on improving their cities also attracted homebuyers, she said.
The Tri-Cities has been a success point for her company, which builds in Oregon and Washington, she said.
Pasco issued the most new building permits, followed by Richland and then Kennewick. Permits increased in Benton County, Franklin County, Benton City and Prosser as well, but in West Richland declined slightly from the 137 issued in 2009 to 132 in 2010.
However, based on new plats being recorded in West Richland, more land should be available there this year, said Candie Bruchman, sales manager for New Tradition Homes. It had its best year in the Tri-Cities since it started building in late 2003, she said.
There was a bit of a slowdown as the First-Time Home Buyer Tax Credit expired, but the market came right back, she said.
New Tradition Homes, which builds the majority of houses in the $250,000 to $320,000 price range, sold to many buyers who were relocating to the Tri-Cities to work at Hanford, she said. With strong technical backgrounds, many of them were looking for energy-efficient features, she said.
w Herald writer John Trumbo contributed to this report.