The homeownership rate in the Akron metropolitan area fell 4 percentage points last year — one of the biggest drops nationwide, the U.S. Census Bureau reported Thursday.

Only Allentown, Pa., Memphis, Tenn., Poughkeepsie, N.Y., and Baton Rouge, La., fared as poorly or worse.

The Akron rate dropped to 66 percent, the lowest in the community in more than a decade. The rate was as high as 78.1 percent in 2005.

“That’s a staggering drop in one year,” said Dave Vaughan, executive director of Neighborhood Development Services in Ravenna.

The Akron metro area, which encompasses Summit and Portage counties, and those other communities weren’t alone, though.

More than half of the 75 metro areas studied had declines, the census said in its annual housing vacancy survey.

The national average last year was 65.1 percent, the lowest level since 1995.

Itzhak Ben-David, associate professor of finance with the Ohio State University Fisher College of Business, said the decline isn’t a negative trend as the rates are returning to normal levels after being inflated by easy credit.

“Much of the increase was fueled by first-time homeowners who didn’t have credit or equity and benefited from zero-down payment mortgages,” he said.

Housing experts attributed the declines, in part, to more people being forced to rent because of the foreclosure crisis and others simply preferring to rent as opposed to owning a home.

“For some people, it might be better to rent,” Ben-David said.

There were fewer rental vacancies in the Akron region last year. The rental vacancy rates dipped from 10 percent to 7.8 percent last year.

The Akron region’s homeownership rate was higher than the 63.4 percent average reported for the 75 largest metro areas in the U.S.

It also was the highest among Ohio’s six largest urban areas. The Cleveland-Elyria-Mentor metro area had the second-highest rate of 65.8 percent.

“I think we’re close to bottoming out or at least it’ll be a very shallow drop,” Jim Camp, principal broker with Cutler Real Estate, said about homeownership in the Akron area.

Ohio’s overall rate of 67.9 percent ranked 24th among states, and was unchanged from a year earlier.

The census also reported that the gross vacancy rate — the percentage of all housing that’s vacant — dipped from 12.2 percent in 2012 to 11.6 percent in the Akron region. The metro average was 11.8 percent.

Rick Armon can be reached at 330-996-3569 or rarmon@thebeaconjournal.com.