Building activity in Sweet Home hits 20-year low

Sean C. Morgan

With economic trouble everywhere, Sweet Home’s building activity levels have reached their lowest levels in nearly 20 years.

The city has had little bits of construction, said Carol Lewis, city community development director, and it is seeing some remodeling.

“Today, we’re issuing a permit for a replacement garage for one that burned,” Lewis said Friday. “It’s really not a very good picture.”

The value for construction in 2011 is minimal, but the city still has to incorporate the last three months of data, she said. “We won’t pick up many this time of year. We’ll usually see a spring bump in revenue, but it wasn’t much of a bump this year.”

Building permits are good for six months, she said, and they’re usually purchased just before foundation work begins.

Housing starts in Sweet Home were scattered throughout the city this year, Lewis said. “I think two might have been in the same subdivision. They’re just individual lots.”

“Contractors are basically saying money is getting easier to borrow, but there’s fewer people willing to take the risk of borrowing,” Lewis said.

The city suffered a slump in 2004 when property values also fell, Lewis said. That year was followed by heavy activity until the recession began to take effect.

Activity is so far down right now that if it got back up to 2010 levels, city officials would be excited, Lewis said. It’s difficult to predict when activity levels will begin climbing again.

So far, with three months of data left to include, Sweet Home has marked $1.03 million in construction for 2011. That’s the lowest level in a comparison of all years back to 1993 when the city had $2.6 million in activity.

Last year, the city had $3.34 million in construction, down from $6.19 million in 2009, $8 million in 2008, $13.51 million in 2007 and an all-time high of $14.93 million in 2006.

The city nearly reached 2006 levels in 2003 with $14.83 million in construction, while 2004 was at $6.99 million and 2005 was at $9.73 million.

The city had $10 million in construction in 2000, while construction was about $7 million or less throughout the 1990s.

Sweet Home has had six housing starts so far this year, with three site-built and three manufactured homes, down from 15 in 2010, 21 in 2009, 25 in 2008 and 83 in 2007. All but 2007 are the lowest numbers dating back to 1998, which had 72 starts, including 44 manufactured and 28 site-built homes.

Sweet Home’s estimated population took a dive earlier this year but has officially increased back above the 9,000 mark again after peaking at 9,070 two years ago.

The population estimate from Portland State University last week was 8,973, but that will increase in the next projection to 9,005.

Portland State applies a number of variables to a limited amount of information – units added and unit subtracted, Lewis said. “These numbers are what we have to use, but they’re pretty artificial. We added housing units last year, so why we lost population in them – your guess is as good as mine.”