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By Sam Spatter
Friday, April 13, 2012

Construction of new multi-family housing is a bright spot in Pittsburgh's housing construction market, according to a report issued Thursday.

In the January-March period, permits for multi-family units and apartments more than doubled with 396 units started compared with 178 during the same period last year, according to Tall Timber Group of Ross.

Builders here and nationwide are building more multi-family housing units, especially what builders term "attached" units. Besides the buildings that house five or more units, multi-family housing includes townhouses, carriage, patio units and quads in which all units share a common wall.

In the Pittsburgh region, construction of single-family housing units is headed in the opposite direction, said Jeff Burd, Tall Timber president.

During the first three months of 2012, permits were issued for 408 single-family detached units, down 17.6 percent from the 495 for the same period last year, he said.

"Permits for single-family homes spiked during January of 2011 in metropolitan Pittsburgh because of a carryover from the short-lived sprinkler mandate and its artificial increase," Burd said. That was caused by a state mandate to install sprinkler systems in new homes that was to go into effect Jan. 1, 2011. The mandate was later eliminated.

A report from Builder Magazine, said new home sales in the Pittsburgh market slid year-over-year with 1,508 new homes sold during the 12 months ended Dec. 31, 2011, down 18.1 percent. from 2010 totals.

The overall housing numbers indicate the housing market is getting a firmer footing in the first quarter of 2012, with permits issued for a combined 804 units, up 19.5 percent over the 673 for the same period last year, Tall Timber said.

Financing for multi-family housing continues to improve as the board of the Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency Thursday approved $11.8 million in funding and $28.5 million in tax credits for construction of affordable multi-family housing developments in the state.

Cranberry Township in Butler County led in total new housing units with 269. Adams Township, also in Butler had 30. That helped the county have the highest total at 326, followed by Allegheny County with 261.

In non-residential construction, volume fell 13 percent in the first quarter of this year compared to the same period in 2011, with $440.7 million this year compared $507.6 million.

Burd said the totals are somewhat misleading because there were several large projects contracted at the beginning of 2011. He is still predicting $3.5 billion for all of 2012, because of big projects such as PNC Financial's new headquaters tower, Downtown, and University of Pittsburgh Medical Center's Innovative Science Center in Bloomfield.

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