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Baltimore region housing permits up 41% in March 1,090 licenses seen as sign of revival


New housing permits granted in the Baltimore area shot up 41 percent in March compared with the same month last year, signaling a revival in residential construction, the Baltimore Regional Council of Governments said in its latest report.

The region, which includes Baltimore and the five nearby counties, recorded 1,090 permits for new housing units in March, the agency said.

"Just by the volume of permits coming in, we see that a rather significant upturn is occurring," Josef Nathanson, council research director, said yesterday. "I think the economy is coming out of the bottom and that housing is likely to lead the way."

For the first quarter, the increase in new residential permits granted in the region was even greater. In the January to March quarter, residential permits rose 68 percent above last year's figures to 3,245.

"Baltimore City is the only jurisdiction that seems to be still struggling from last year's recession," the council said in a press release.

Although residential permits for new homes were down from last year in Baltimore, Mr. Nathanson discounted the statistics for the city, which is densely populated and has relatively few new home subdivisions in the best of years.

"The city's construction activity tends to come more in clusters. It tends to be rather lumpy," he said.

The strongest gains in home construction for the period was in in Baltimore County, with the Owings Mills area showing the biggest increase, the council said.

While housing permits were up in the Baltimore region compared with last year, Gary Blucher, the president-elect of the Home Builders Association of Maryland, said residential construction still is way below the level it achieved in the 1980s.

He emphasized that 1991 was a particularly bad year for home construction locally.

"Being up dramatically from one of the worst years we've had is encouraging. But the . . . industry is still depressed compared to the activity that we have seen over the last 10 years," Mr. Blucher said.

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