March housing starts decline, but permits rise

Residential construction data from the Commerce Department released Tuesday morning shows housing starts declined 5.8% in March to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 654,000. But building permits were the strongest since September 2008.

Single-family housing starts held steady at 462,000, compared with 463,000 in February.

The total housing starts figure is the lowest since October 2011, when the rate dipped to 628,000. Optimists, however, will point out that the year-over-year growth continues to be strong for construction. March’s total starts are up 10.3%, and single-family starts are up 10.5% compared with March 2011.

The building permit story will also fuel optimism. Privately owned housing units authorized by building permits in March were at a rate of 747,000, up 4.5% from February, and up 30.1% compared with March 2011.

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