Nationwide housing starts rose 14.6 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 596,000 units in January, according to figures released by the U.S. Commerce Department. The gain was due to a 77.7 percent increase in the multifamily sector, where significant month-to-month swings in activity are not unusual and where new building has been below expectations for the past several months, according to the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB). Meanwhile, single-family housing starts remained virtually flat for the month, with a 1.0 percent decline.
"Considering the abnormally poor weather conditions that prevailed across most of the country last month, along with the continuing difficulty that builders are having in obtaining financing for new construction, the fact that single-family starts held virtually unchanged while multifamily starts posted solid gains is encouraging," said Bob Nielsen, NAHB chairman and a home builder from Reno, Nev. "Any gain in housing production means more people are being put back to work, and is a sign that builders are preparing for improving demand for new homes in the spring."
"We read today's report as an indication that new-home construction remained stable at a low level heading into the new year, which is a positive outcome considering the ongoing challenges builders face in obtaining financing for new projects and the above-average snowfall in many states this January," acknowledged NAHB Chief Economist David Crowe. "The numbers also confirm what our latest member surveys have told us, which is that builders see spotty buyer interest but remain very cautious as credit remains tight and buyer confidence uncertain."
While single-family housing starts held virtually unchanged with a 1.0 percent decline to a 413,000-unit rate, a 77.7 percent jump to 183,000 units on the multifamily side propelled the overall gain in housing production this January. Gains in housing production were detected in three out of four regions, with the Northeast posting a 41.8 percent increase, the Midwest a 36.4 percent increase, and the South a 15.8 percent increase. The West was the only region posting a decline in overall housing starts, of 9.7 percent.
Permit issuance, which can be an indicator of future building activity, declined 10.4 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 562,000 units in January. This decline, however, comes on the heels of an unusually large gain in December that was precipitated by building code changes going into effect at the beginning of the new year.
Single-family building permits fell 4.8 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 421,000 units in January, while multifamily permits fell 23.8 percent to 141,000 units. On a regional basis, combined single- and multifamily permits were down 38.5 percent in the Northeast, 5.3 percent in the Midwest, and 27.3 percent in the West, but posted an 11.4 percent gain in the South.