According to the Commerce Department's tally, December's total housing starts were down from November, but single-family starts were at the highest rate in 21 months.
December housing starts were at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 657,000, down 4.1% from the November pace of 685,000. But compared with last year, total starts are up 24.9%.
While total starts faltered in December, the single-family numbers gave some optimism for a home improvement and housing industry hungry for growth. On a single-family basis, starts in December were at a rate of 470,000, up 4.4% from November and up 11.6% from December 2010. The December number was the strongest since April 2010.
Building permits were at a rate of 679,000, essentially flat from November but up 7.8% from December 2010.
For the full year, an estimated 606,900 housing units were started in the United States, up 3.4% from the 2010 figure of 586,900. However, single-family starts declined in 2011 to 428,600 for the full year, down 9.0% from 2010. The 2011 single-family figure is the lowest on record.