Regional Housing Supply and Credit Constraints

by Christopher J. Mayer and C. Tsuriel Somerville
November/December 1996

The construction of new housing plays a critical role in the economy, yet it is understudied by researchers. Increases in housing starts raise construction employment, and recent home buyers often purchase other consumer durables, leading through the multiplier effect to increased employment. Construction is especially important to the business cycle, because changes in residential construction tend to lead recessions and recovery.

Despite its importance, empirical research on housing supply is surprisingly rare. This article presents a new empirical model of housing supply that reflects the land development process and is consistent with the time-series characteristics of the data. The authors apply this model to the four U.S. Census regions and estimate regional housing start elasticities, which range between 0.9 and 3.9. Their estimates also show a prolonged period of below-predicted construction in the Northeast during the early 1990s that does not appear during the downturns in other regions. These results are consistent with the hypothesis that a severe negative shock to local asset values (and thus bank capital), possibly combined with changes in banking regulation, let to a "credit crunch" that reduced new housing construction.

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