By JASON COX
Of the Keizertimes

Construction in Keizer continued to slow down in 2011.

And while total project valuation rose slightly in the year, the two biggest construction jobs – totaling some $2.7 million – were both Salem-Keizer School District projects. Total project valuation rose by $22,767 in 2011 to $13,791,000.

Two other major permit applications were from Keizer Station – a remodel at Target and tenant improvements for Guitar Center – and construction at Emerald Pointe Retirement Community, which is adding on to its facility.

New housing starts hit the lowest point in at least five years, with just 30 residential units beginning construction in 2011. This includes 17 single-family homes and a few duplexes, triplexes and four-plexes.

“This says to me that though Keizer was able to put it off for a while, we’re not insulated completely from the larger economic picture,” said Community Development Director Nate Brown.

The trend has seen single-family dwelling starts fall each year in the five-year period of 2007-11, falling from 68 in 2007. Builders started on 56 single-family homes in 2008, 45 in 2007 and 27 in 2010, falling to 17 in 2011.

“We keep hearing noises that 2012 is going to be a great year,” he said. “I’m hoping to see it. But I’m not seeing it yet.”

Local developer Lee Sjothun built Hawk’s Point in north Keizer. Just one major apartment complex – his – has been built in Keizer the past few years. The complex currently has 166 units and was built in two phases.

“With the housing situation the way it is, if they are employed or have the means they stay at apartments longer,” Sjothun said. “In the past we have lost numerous people on a monthly basis to new houses. Since that’s slowed down a lot, that’s what has kept the apartments full.”

Vacancy rate on multi-family homes is between 4 and 5 percent in the Salem area, which is about the same as the nationwide apartment vacancy level.

Sjothun said that a lack of large, easily developable tracts in Keizer make it difficult to locate more multi-family complexes in the city.

“Hawk’s Point, as an example, is kind of far out there for an apartment complex,” Sjothun said. “Typically you’d want them closer to existing services, but those properties just don’t exist in Keizer.”

Mike Erdmann, executive vice president of the Home Builders Association of Marion and Polk counties, said he’s hearing anecdotally of more interest in new homes, and that buyers are realizing they’re likely to never encounter a friendlier market for would-be homeowners, with prices reaching new lows and interest rates hovering at or below 4 percent.

“The challenge is that there’s very, very little land available in Keizer,” Erdmann said. “… One opportunity is that with proximity to the freeway and the Portland market, it’s proven popular for people wanting to buy new homes in the Salem area.”