March building permits are up about 50 percent in the Twin Cities from the same time last year, according to the Builders Association of the Twin Cities. But the industry is still inching into recovery.
Association president and Lee Lyn Construction owner Curt Christensen said the numbers reflect an increase in multi-unit housing, especially in Minneapolis.
"In the past five years, the industry has virtually been in a downturn," Christensen said. "I'd say the fourth quarter of last year and this quarter of this year, we've had an upturn, but we're very cautious on that upturn, not knowing if it's consistent or if it's a spike."
Although the March numbers represent a small uptick for builders, about three-times as many permits were issued ten years ago.
Christensen said many builders have had to close down or leave the industry because business was so bad. Those that are left have often changed their focus, relying on more remodeling jobs and the construction of smaller houses.
"They're struggling trying to hang on, trying to be business smart," Christensen said. "The ones that are in business have restructured their companies and downscaled or changed their overhead expenditures."
The BATC has been hit hard too. The organization has lost about 45 percent of its members since 2006, according to BATC director of marketing Wendy Danks.
An area of slight growth is with aby boomers, Christensen said. As they age, they're looking to move into single-storied houses where they'll be able to stay as long as possible.