HOUSTON (Houston Chronicle) – Area apartment occupancies have fallen to 84.2 percent, their lowest level in 15 years, according to locally based Apartment Data Services.

 The real estate research firm says last year’s rental rates fell to $709 per month from $726 in 2008. An industry report by Marcus & Millichap says asking rents are expected to finish this year at $737 per month, down 1.2 percent from the end of 2009.

 Effective rents — after discounts and concessions — are expected to fall 2.7 percent from $656 per month. 

With occupancy and rents down, builders are turning out fewer new apartments. This year, about 5,000 units will be added in the Houston area, the smallest number since the mid-to-late 1990s and lower than the market peak of 21,000 new units in 2008.