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July 29 -- The Census Bureau invites the public to submit comments to OMB by August 30, 2021 regarding the extension of the Building Permits Survey (BPS) through 2024. the U.S. Census Bureau proposes to change the methodology for the tabulation of monthly Building Permit Survey, beginning in January 2022. The methodology will change from a representative sample to a cutoff sample based on recent permit activity by jurisdiction.
 
The Census Bureau conducts the Report of Building or Zoning Permits Issued for New Privately-Owned Housing Units, otherwise known as the Building Permits Survey (BPS) to collect data on new residential buildings from state and local permit-issuing offices. The key estimates from the survey are the numbers of new housing units authorized by building permits; data are also collected on the valuation of the housing units. Form C-404 specifically collects information on changes to the geographic coverage of the permit-issuing place, the number and valuation of new residential housing units authorized by building permits, and additional information on residential permits valued at $2 million or more, including, but not limited to, site address and type of building.

The Census Bureau produces statistics used to monitor activity in the large and dynamic construction industry. Given the importance of this industry, several of the statistical series have been designated by the Office of Management and Budget as Principal Economic Indicators. Two such indicators are directly dependent on the key estimates from the BPS. For New Residential Construction (which includes Housing Units Authorized by Building Permits, Housing Starts, and Housing Completions), Form C-404 is used to collect the estimate for Housing Units Authorized by Building Permits. For New Residential Construction and Sales, the number of housing units authorized by building permits is a key component utilized in the estimation of housing units started, completed, and sold.

The Census Bureau uses the Form C-404 to collect data that provide estimates of the number and valuation of new residential housing units authorized by building permits.  There are roughly 20,000 permit issuing jurisdictions in the United States.  Slightly less than one-half of those permit offices are requested to report monthly.  The remaining offices are surveyed annually.  We use the data, a component of The Conference Board Leading Economic Index, to estimate the number of housing units authorized, started, completed, and sold (single-family only). In addition, the Census Bureau uses the detailed geographic data in the development of annual population estimates; those population estimates are used by government agencies to allocate funding and other resources to local areas, inform policy, and aid in city planning.  Policymakers, planners, businesses, and others use the detailed geographic data to monitor growth and plan for local services, and to develop production and marketing plans. The BPS is the only source of statistics on residential construction for states, counties, and smaller geographic areas. Since building permits are public records, we can release data for individual jurisdictions, and annual data are published for every permit-issuing jurisdiction.
 
Annual data are collected between the months of January and April and annual totals are released to the public on the first working day in May. These annual data are essential for the benchmarking of revised monthly data, which are published with the annual totals on the first working day in May. Additionally, the Census Bureau uses the detailed geographic data in the development of annual population estimates.
 
The target population for the survey is all permit-issuing jurisdictions in the United States. The universe and monthly sample are historically updated every 10 years; a new universe and sample was defined in 2013 for use beginning in 2014. A representative monthly sample was selected in 2013, however, changes in coverage have resulted in a sample size of about 8,353 permit-issuing places from a universe of about 20,100 places. This sample will be used to provide monthly estimates of construction authorized by building permits through December 2021. The average monthly unit response rate for 2020 was approximately 67 percent and the monthly total quantity response rate was approximately 79 percent.

An annual survey of all permit-issuing places in the universe was also conducted. Our overall unit response rate for 2020 (including both monthly and annual reporters) was about 80 percent.  The overall total quantity response rate for 2020 (for both monthly and annual reporters) was about 90%.

During 2020, a significant effort was made to increase electronic reporting and reduce paper form processing. In December 2020, 90.2% percent of the places that reported for that month, provided their reports online or via an electronic file. This is an increase from 53.2% in December 2019. For jurisdictions surveyed annually, 75.7% of those that reported chose to report via online or electronic file for 2020, compared to 38.1% in 2019.

Beginning in January 2022, the current monthly sample will be replaced by a new cutoff sample that will include 8,613 permit-issuing places in the monthly data collection. These places were selected for monthly collection because their 3-year average activity based on 2017-2019 annual data was more than 5 units. The remaining 11,667 places below the activity cutoff will be included in the monthly estimates, with imputation, but only canvassed annually.  

The design of the cutoff sample is intended to include the jurisdictions that authorize more units. The 8,613 places that authorize more than 5 units on average annually made up more than 99% of the total units authorized in 2019. The 11,667 jurisdictions where monthly collection will not be attempted only represent 1% of total units authorized during that same period. Over 4,400 of the 11,667 jurisdictions did not authorize any units over the three-year span.  

At the end of the year, non-respondents to the monthly survey will also be asked to provide any missing data. The data from the annual respondents are combined with the data from the monthly respondents to produce an annual total. The response rate goal for the conclusion of the annual survey is 80 percent or above, which aligns with the response rate goal for the Census Bureau.

Following each annual survey (April), the 3-year average activity will be recalculated for all active places in the universe and used to identify places that either exceed the cutoff to be included in the monthly survey or no longer meet the criteria to be included in the monthly survey.

BPS website:  https://www.census.gov/construction/bps/
BPS submission to OMB: https://www.reginfo.gov/public/do/PRAViewICR?ref_nbr=202107-0607-002  Click on IC List for survey instrument, View Supporting Statement for technical documentation
FR notice inviting comment to OMB:  https://www.federalregister.gov/documents/2021/07/29/2021-16150/agency-information-collection-activities-submission-to-the-office-of-management-and-budget-omb-for
 
Point of contact: Bonnie Kegan, Chief, Construction Surveys Statistical Methods Branch, Economic Statistical Methods Division, Census Bureau (301) 763-7639 bonnie.e.kegan@census.gov

For AEA members wishing to submit comments to OMB, "A Primer on How to Respond to Calls for Comment on Federal Data Collections" is available at https://www.aeaweb.org/content/file?id=5806

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