Way back in 1960, Harford County's population was a little more than 76,000, which, presuming an average of four people per house, translates to about 19,000 homes.
When the building boom hit Harford County hard in the 1970s and especially the 1980s, local planning offices were issuing upward of 1,500 permits for new houses each year. Relative to what had been on the ground, that's a lot of new construction.
In a community of 20,000 houses, 1,500 new ones amounts to about 7.5 percent of what had already been standing before construction started.
These days, Harford County's population is just shy of 250,000, and using the same very rough estimate of four people per house, that translates to 62,500 homes (which is probably a low estimate on the number of homes in the county). For purposes of discussion, however, the reality is adding 1,500 new homes to a county of 62,500 homes reflects something in the range of 2.4 percent.
This mathematical exercise illustrates an important point about the economics of the housing industry, a business that has been a key component of Harford County's business bottom line since, well, at least the 1960s. The point: Important though new home construction has been, and remains, to the local economy, it has long since peaked as a percentage of local business activity, and that trend is likely to continue for the foreseeable future.
Even as the county's growth has made construction of 1,000 new homes a year a smaller percentage, new construction also has consumed a substantial amount of the available land.
Prior to the recession hitting in 2008 – an economic downturn that was particularly devastating to the new home construction business – the demand for new houses had been reduced to somewhere in the range of 1,000 a year, countywide. After 2008, the number of home construction permits dipped to the 550 a year range.
The numbers were up for 2013, according to numbers compiled from the county planning office and those of the Aberdeen, Bel Air and Havre de Grace municipal governments. Permits for 741 new homes were issued in 2013, and there's reason to believe, county official say, that number will increase to the 1,000 home per year level during the next decade or so.
Economically speaking, this is wonderful news. Locally, it's a good sign that the downturn some have termed the Great Recession has bottomed out and the economy is on the upswing. (Growth from 550 to 1,000 homes a year, after all, constitutes a massive percentage increase, even as it also constitutes a return to where things had been prior to the downturn.)
There is another side to the good economic news about the issuance of permits for new home construction. Though good economic news is generally welcome, the building of new homes gets mixed reviews, depending on the community where construction is proposed.
Since 2008, there have been relatively few large scale public protests of new home construction plans, but as demand for new homes picks up, that's likely to change.
Something else likely to change is the relatively limited discussions that have taken place in recent years about zoning and land use policies. Going back 15 or so years, there was a lot of talk about expanding Harford County's development corridors along Routes 40 and 24 (sometimes referred to as the Development Envelope). That talk is likely to be renewed as the economy improves, and, just as was the case last time, the Aberdeen-Churchville-Creswell area west of I-95 is likely to be viewed hungrily by development interests. Other territories likely to see pressure include the Route 152 corridor to Fallston and beyond, as well as the northwestern corner around Norrisville.
It remains to be seen what the county's political appetite is for trying to maintain the home building industry's status as a percentage of the local economy. Given the strength of the building industry in the halls of power in Harford County in recent decades, though, it's likely the pressure will be on as the economy improves.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun