Building permits and housing starts in December were both below levels reported in November 'according to data released this morning by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the Census Bureau.  Both statistics were, however, well above the levels one year earlier.

Building permits for privately owned housing units were at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 679,000, 0.1 percent below the revised November rate of 680,000.  Permitting activity was 7.8 percent higher than in December 2010 when the pace of permits was 630,000.  The November figure was revised downward from the 681,000 originally reported.

Permits were issued for single-family houses at the rate of 444,000, up 1.8 percent from the 436,000 reported in November.  Multi-family authorizations (permits in buildings with five or more units) were at a rate of 209,000 compared to 223,000 in November.

The report estimates that there were 611,900 housing units issued during the whole of 2011, a 1.2 percent increase over the 604,600 issued in 2010.

On a regional basis, permitting increased month-over-month in the Midwest by 5.8 percent and was up 13.4 percent on an annual basis.  Permits in the West were unchanged from November and down 1.2 percent year-over-year.   Permitting fell 6.5 percent in the Northeast and was 36.8 percent below that of one year ago while the South had a fractional -0.6 percent change since November but permitting was still up 31.1 percent for the year.

Building Permits

Privately-owned housing starts in December were at a seasonally adjusted rate of 657,000, 4.1 percent below the revised November estimate of 685,000 but a 24.9 percent increase from the December 2010 rate of 526,000.   Single-family starts were at a rate of 470,000, up 4.4 percent from the previous month's pace of 450,000 and 11.6 percent higher than in December 2010. 

There were an estimated 606,900 housing units for which construction was started in 2011 compared to 586,900 in 2010.  This is an increase of 3.4 percent.

There were strong regional differences in housing starts.  The Midwest saw a jump of 54.8 percent in housing starts since November and a year-over-year increase of 121.5 percent.  The other regions did not fare nearly as well.  The Northeast was down 41.2 percent for the month and 1.7 percent since December 2010.  The change in the South was -3.0 percent for the month and 19.0 percent for the year, and the West was down -17.6 percent since November but up 1.5 percent annually.

Housing Starts

Housing completions in December were at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 605,000, up 9.2 percent from the upwardly revised (from 542,000) November figure of 554,000.  Single family completions were at a rate of 448,000, a -0.9 percent monthly change.

An estimated 583,900 housing units were completed during 2011, 10.4 percent below the 2010 figure of 651,700.  At year's end there were an estimated 78,800 permits that had been issued but for which work had not yet been started.  More than half of these permits (43,100) were in the South.