(BLOOMBERG) — The U.S. homeownership rate fell to the lowest in almost 18 years, reflecting rising demand for rentals and investor purchases in the housing market.

The share of Americans who own their homes was 65 percent in the first quarter, down from 65.4 percent a year earlier and the lowest level since the third quarter of 1995, the Census Bureau reported today. The vacancy rate for rented homes dropped to 8.6 percent from 8.8 percent a year earlier, while vacancies for owner-occupied houses fell to 2.1 percent from 2.2 percent.

Investors are buying single-family homes and renting them out to capitalize on demand among families unable to qualify for a mortgage. Their purchases, many made with cash, are helping to support the housing recovery and pushing up prices. Home values in 20 cities increased 9.3 percent in February from a year earlier, the most since May 2006, according to the S&P/Case- Shiller index released today.

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