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Homeownership rate slips, rental vacancies up

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The share of privately owned homes edged down in the fourth quarter and rental vacancies rose, government data showed on Tuesday, underscoring the challenges still confronting the housing market recovery.

The homeownership rate slipped to 65.4 percent from 65.5 percent in the third quarter, the Commerce Department said.

While the housing market recovery appears to be gaining traction, high unemployment and stringent lending standards are keeping many from owning a home.

The homeownership rate peaked at 69.2 percent in 2004 at the height of a housing market boom fueled by cheap credit.

In the fourth quarter, the home ownership rate was pulled down by a 1.4 percentage points decline in ownership among the 35-44 age group.

The residential rental vacancy rate ticked up to 8.7 percent from 8.6 percent in the third quarter. It peaked at 11.1 percent in the third quarter of 2009.

Owner-occupied housing units made up 56.6 percent of total housing units, while renter-occupied units made up 30.0 percent of the inventory in the fourth quarter of 2012.

Vacant units that were held off market comprised 5.5 percent of the total housing stock. The share of empty privately owned houses was steady at 1.9 percent.

(Reporting by Lucia Mutikani; Editing by Andrea Ricci)

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