The national media was trumpeting the good news about housing start
data released Tuesday morning by the Census Bureau and the Department
of Housing and Urban Development, but it is not clear exactly what they were
October housing starts were at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 1,229,000
which is 3 percent above the revised September estimate of 1,193,000. That is
the good news. But single family home construction actually was down 7.3 percent
from September to an annualized rate of 884,000 units. It was construction of
buildings with five units or more that showed improvement in October, with starts
at an annualized rate of 312,000 units - a 46.5 percent increase over
the September figure of 213,000. Any improvement in any part of the housing
construction sector is certainly welcome, but multi-family construction represents
such a small share of total starts that it hard to get too excited.
Overall housing starts in October were running 16.4 percent below October 2006's
revised figure of 1,470,000.
Single family construction starts were most improved in the Northeast (up 29.5
percent from September) and the Midwest (an increase of 15.1 percent) but were
down 19.5 percent in the South and 8.1 percent in the West.
Permits for privately-owned housing construction were issued
in October at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 1,178,000, a decline of 6.6
percent below the revised September rate of 1,261,000. Permits for October,
2007 were issued at a rate 24.5 percent lower than one year earlier.
Housing completions for the month were at a seasonally adjusted annual rate
of 1,436,000, 1.9 percent above the revised September estimate of 1,409,000
but 25 percent below the rate one year earlier.
Builders are currently sitting on permits for 1,800,000 units for which construction
has not yet begun, 1,054,000 of these are single family houses. In September
the number of permits outstanding was 1,900,000 and one year ago it was 2,015,000.