After falling 15.2 percent in July, multifamily starts jumped 25.3 percent in August, according to the Census Department.
Is it a sign that things are picking up? Outside of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Section 221(d)(4) program, not exactly. But HUD financing is stimulating development throughout the country. For instance, LandSouth Construction, a Jacksonville, Fla.-based multifamily general contractor, recently began a 432-unit community in Osceola County, Fla. and a 312-unit luxury apartment complex in Kannapolis, N.C. Meanwhile, Birmingham, Ala.-based Doster Construction recently started a 324-unit deal in Huntsville, Ala. using HUD financing.
Though these scattered projects don’t seem that consequential, a few groundbreakings can make a big difference in the percentage of starts. Over the past three months, starts have hovered at about 110,000 units (112,000 in June and 95,000 in July). “Since the numbers are so small, you get ten more complexes going and that’s a big jump in the [percentage] number," says Spencer Stuart Jr., senior managing director with Dallas-based Legacy Partners Residential Development.
Right now, the groundbreakings by LandSouth and Doster seem to be the exception and not the rule. “The [start] numbers are volatile,” says Bernie Markstein, senior economist for the National Association of Home Builders. “It’s really hard for these guys to get financing for large projects. If somebody does open the spigot just a little, all of a sudden you get a jump.”
In fact, it seems the story from Jacksonville, Fla.,-based Summit Contractors is more commonplace. The company is finishing several jobs in flourishing Huntsville, Ala., which has a strong federal employment base, but had one job pulled in Greenville, S.C., because the financing fell through.
“I don’t see much conventional [product] that’s getting financed,” says Marc Padgett, a principal at Summit. “It’s really slow right now. The banks are so scared and nervous right now that they’re just not doing much at all.”
Padgett, though, suspects the HUD program could soon drive even more activity. “A lot of people went to HUD at the beginning of the year, but that’s a nine-month process,” Padgett says. “Some of the projects are just now [getting] started. I think there might be some coming online in the near future.”