Here’s a look at the total number of single-family homes and duplexes built in Lawrence, plus the total value of all construction projects started in past years.
• 2009: 126 permits; $75.3 million.
• 2008: 114 permits; $146.5 million.
• 2007: 175 permits; $104.4 million.
• 2006: 275 permits; $171.4 million.
• 2005: 305 permits; $131.2 million.
• 2004: 423 permits; $117.7 million.
Housing starts in Lawrence rose slightly in 2009, according to new year-end figures released by the city. But local builders said it was still one of the toughest years on record.
“About once a month, you heard of another company that just wasn’t building anymore,” said Lee Queen of Lawrence-based Edmondson Construction.
Builders took out permits for 126 single-family homes and duplexes in 2009, up from 114 in 2008. But the numbers were far off the levels seen just five years ago, when builders constructed more than 300 single-family homes and more than 100 duplexes.
For many builders, the year felt excruciatingly slow at times.
“We didn’t pull our first single-family permit of the year until November,” Queen said of his company.
Instead, many builders are staying in business by doing small remodeling jobs — everything from hanging a door to building a backyard fence, Queen said.
Bobbie Flory, executive director of the Lawrence Home Builders Association, said optimism levels are starting to rise somewhat in 2010. She said continuation of an $8,000 federal tax credit for first-time homebuyers and the creation of a $6,500 tax credit for certain repeat homebuyers are expected to increase activity in the real estate market.
“We feel like it will increase again in 2010, but it will be a gradual, steady increase,” Flory said. “We’re not going to turn around on a dime and start building 400 houses a year again.”
Although single-family and duplex construction numbers rose slightly, other building totals fell in 2009. Among the information in the year-end report:
• Total value of all construction projects fell to $75.3 million, down from $146.5 million. City officials said a lack of large commercial construction projects led to the decline. This was the first time since 1992 that fewer than $80 million in construction projects were started in Lawrence.
• Permits for new apartments fell to 172 units, down from 557.
• Building permit fees collected fell to $562,262, down from $797,232. The decline in fee collections left the city about $185,000 short of its budget projections for the department.
The downturn has robbed the city of what many considered to be the community’s second largest industry — trailing only education, Flory said.
“You have so many people who are used to making a living in the construction industry, and now they are having to find something else to do,” Flory said.