Utah built its way to the nation's second-fastest rate of housing-unit growth in 2007, according to census estimates released Thursday.

The housing growth came before the current mortgage crisis hit full stride.

"We have really gone in the tank since then," said James Wood, director of the University of Utah's Bureau of Economic and Business Research. New building permits in major cities since 2007 are down about 60 percent.

Taz Biesinger, executive vice president of the Utah Home Builders Association, said it may take 10 years for home construction to reach the 2007 levels — "if we ever get there again."

The census estimated that the number of housing units in Utah on July 1, 2007, was 925,242 — up from 900,910 a year earlier. That 2.7 percent growth rate ranked No. 2 among the states, behind only Nevada, which had a 3.5 percent rate.

Nationally, the average growth rate was only 1.3 percent — about half of Utah's rate — in those halcyon days before the mortgage crisis hit last August

Several Utah counties also were in the Top 100 in 2007 growth among the nation's counties that had at least 5,000 units.

Wasatch County ranked No. 10 nationally at 6.8 percent growth. Iron County was No. 33 at 5.1 percent. Utah County was No. 40 at 4.7 percent. Uintah County was No. 45 at 4.6 percent. And Washington County was No. 66 at 4.1 percent.

The Census Bureau takes about a year to gather data and report estimates.

"We've really fallen off the edge in the last nine months," Wood said. "The last three quarters have been the three worst consecutive quarters — ever" for housing growth in Utah.

Biesinger said the fast growth in Utah between 2006 and 2007 — before the full impact of the mortgage crisis hit — came when Utah "had a strong economy, strong in-migration and some artificially high demand."

He said the "artificial" demand came from "investors who thought they were going to flip homes" by buying them at low prices, improving them and reselling them. Some of the "artificial" demand also was due to "exotic mortgages that helped some people qualify for mortgages who probably shouldn't have."

Wood said that more than 50,000 high-risk subprime mortgages were issued in Utah between 2004 and 2007.

"A good deal of those people would not qualify (for mortgages) in past markets," he said, and the subprime market no longer exists because of its problems and new, tougher regulations.

Last August, new housing construction in Utah abruptly slowed amid the mortgage crisis. Usually, such a slowdown takes a couple of years, Wood said.

Dave Mansell, president of the Utah Association of Realtors, said home sales over the past year have been down by 40 percent and home values have dropped about 12 percent. However, he said he has seen signs that improvement is on the horizon.

Between 2000 and 2007, census estimates show Utah ranked fourth among the states for housing growth, at 20.4 percent. That was about twice the national average of 10.4 percent for those seven years.

Several Utah counties also were among the Top 100 for growth nationally from 2000 to 2007. They included Washington County, which was No. 15 nationally, at 49.9 percent growth; Wasatch County at No. 34, with 41.0 percent; Utah County, No. 82, at 32.6 percent; Tooele County, No. 88, at 32.1 percent; and Iron County, No. 89, at 32.0 percent.


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