What Is a Housing Unit?

The term housing unit refers to a single unit within a larger structure that can be used by an individual or household to eat, sleep, and live. The unit can be in any type of residence such as a house, apartment, mobile home or may also be a single unit in a group of rooms. Essentially, a housing unit is deemed to be a separate living quarter where the occupants live and eat separately from other residents of the structure or building. They also have direct access from the building's exterior or through a common hallway.

Key Takeaways

  • A housing unit is one unit within a larger structure such as a house, apartment, mobile home, or group of rooms where a person or family eat, live, and sleep.
  • Housing units are separate living quarters where the occupants live separately from other residents of the structure.
  • Residential construction is the largest component of change in housing units.

Understanding Housing Units

Housing units are residential units found in different types of structures. These structures include residential homes, and apartment and condominium buildings. They may also be multiple rooms in a large structure such as a hotel or motel. These units allow an individual or family to live, eat, and sleep separately from others which is also why they're referred to as separate living quarters. As noted above, the occupants can access their own units directly using a common doorway and/or hallway.

Residential construction is the largest component of change in housing units. It is made up of both permitted and non-permitted construction. More than 98% of all new housing units are built in places that issue building permits, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

There are three types of situations that determine the loss of a housing unit. It can either be due to an interior exposed to the elements, a demolished unit, or a home—house or mobile—that was moved. For example, the loss rate of homes, apartments, or flats built between 1940 and 1949 as measured in 2016 was 0.38%. Meanwhile, mobile homes had a reported loss rate of 1.76%, according to the same 2016 data.

Housing unit loss can be attributed to exposure to the elements, demolition, or a change in the unit's location.

The following living quarters are generally not considered housing units and are not included in Census Bureau data:

  • Dormitories, bunkhouses, barracks
  • Transient hotels and motels—except for those people who consider it their place of residence
  • Quarters in institutions, general hospitals, and military installations. There are exceptions including units that are occupied by staff members or resident employees

Special Considerations

Each year, the U.S. Census Bureau provides housing unit estimates for all counties and states. These estimates are used as controls to the tracking of population growth/loss for cities and towns. Estimates start with the most recent census data, then add in the estimated amount of new residential construction and mobile homes. Next, the estimated housing units lost is subtracted and results in the annual estimate figure.

According to 2018 data, there were 138.5 million housing units in the nation. That's a 0.8% increase from the 137.4 million units estimated in the United States in 2017. The three states with the most housing units reported were California with 14.3 million units, Texas with 11.1 million units, and Florida with 9.5 million units.

Examples of Housing Units

As noted above, there are many different types of housing units. For instance, single families can be converted into multiple units as illustrated by the following example. A homeowner may decide to renovate their basement to accommodate a secondary suite. Once complete, the owner may rent out the unit to another individual or family, or offer the unit to members of their family. This dwelling becomes a separate housing unit.

Similarly, a developer may seek permits to construct an apartment complex on an empty piece of land. The apartments that are constructed are counted as separate housing units.