Housing Permits Rise in Wisconsin

The number of new housing units permitted in Wisconsin from January through September 2021 increased 26% over the same months in the prior year, new data from the U.S. Census Bureau show. That compares to a 22.9% increase seen nationally during this period. This trend does not simply reflect a rebound from the pandemic: new housing unit permits also are up through September 2021 compared to the same months in the previous four-year average, by 31.9% in Wisconsin and 29.1% nationally.

The trend differs, however, according to housing type. In Wisconsin, single-family housing permits were up 12.2% through September compared to the average of the same period in the prior four years, while multi-family permits were up 67.8% (see Figure 1). This difference separates Wisconsin from neighboring states and from a national trend in which recent permits for single-family and multi-family housing units have increased at relatively comparable rates.

Also worth noting is that the vast majority (67.1%) of the total increase in Wisconsin was for multi-family housing units in complexes of five or more. Notably, this comes in spite of some speculation early in the COVID-19 pandemic that it might dampen demand for higher-density housing.

Data referenced in this report are for residential construction permits issued by about 21,000 local governments collected as part of the Census Building Permits Survey. About 9,000 jurisdictions respond to the monthly survey, with the remainder reporting only on an annual basis. The year-to-date data we examine here is adjusted by the Census Bureau to try to account for missing annual reporters.