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Building Permits Survey (BPS)

While many people are familiar with the United States Census every 10 years as mandated by the Constitution, over 100 different surveys are conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau each year. SBB Research Group summarizes vital information from about these lesser-known—but significant—surveys in this educational series.

What is the Building Permits Survey (BPS)?

The Building Permits Survey provides national, state, and local statistics on new residential construction. Twenty thousand permit-issuing locations provide survey information each year; 8,400 sites are surveyed monthly and used to report monthly data for all locations. The report tracks the number of permits by type of structure — single-family homes, two-unit buildings, three- and four-unit buildings, and five-or-more unit buildings — and the total value of construction.

The Census Bureau created an interactive application to visualize the data. This application can analyze data across states, counties, and municipalities from 1990 to 2022. For example, a user can display monthly data before the pandemic to 2022 of the states that had the highest number of permits, in this case, California, New York, Texas, and Florida. The data show a significant decline in California and New York permits in March 2020 compared to Texas and Florida. Texas and Florida have increased permits for new residential construction since the pandemic, whereas New York and California have stayed relatively constant.

Additionally, the Building Permits Survey allows for within-state analysis, which shows how new construction has changed in specific areas over the last 32 years. For example, Illinois data indicate that Naperville saw a dramatic increase in permits during the 1990s and a sharp decline in the early 2000s before rising after 2009 and leveling off thereafter. As of 2020, Naperville is one of the top places for new construction in Illinois, behind Chicago and Champaign.

How is the Data Used?

The Building Permits Survey data have multiple uses. Government agencies monitor areas of growth and decline, which may lead to policy changes to reallocate funds for road and sewer improvement as an indicator of population growth. Financial institutions gauge areas with high demand to price mortgages or allocate banking resources. Private companies conduct market planning, investment analysis, and location and demand planning for real estate development. Construction companies determine where to send material and personnel to high-demand areas or obtain contracting licenses in new locations. Retailers may consider building new stores or increasing marketing in certain areas. The Federal Reserve analyzes economic conditions in different regions as a leading indicator of the nation’s economic vitality and growth.


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