California housing starts fell in February from January’s 14,292-unit level, but are still on track to break the 200,000-unit barrier in 2004, the California Building Industry Association reported today.

Single-family housing starts, as measured by building permits issued, totaled 9,912 in February, down 12.1 percent from January and down 1.7 percent from February 2003, according to figures released by the Burbank-based Construction Industry Research Board.

Multifamily starts – which often fluctuate sharply from month to month – were up 28.3 percent from January but down 46.1 percent from February 2003. That month’s figures were extremely high because builders were rushing to beat hefty fee increases that went into effect in March in many jurisdictions.

In all, builders pulled permits on 14,193 homes, apartments, and condominiums in February, down 2.9 percent from January and down 21.3 percent from February 2003. On a seasonally adjusted basis, production was down 1.4 percent from January and down 20.3 percent from the previous year.

CBIA President Sherman D. Harmer Jr., a San Diego home-builder, said despite the modest downturn in February, 2004 is still shaping up to be a very good year for the industry, and for home buyers.

“The state continues to grow by about 600,000 people a year, and after years of underproduction, demand for homes and apartments remains very strong,” Harmer said. “With interest rates likely to remain low and the economy clearly growing, I think it is very likely that we will hit the 200,000 mark this year.”

In terms of single-family homes, which CBIA-member builders generally specialize in, the Inland Empire remains the most active market, followed by the Sacramento region and Los Angeles County. On a percentage basis, production has been particularly strong so far this year in the San Joaquin Valley and Central Coast regions, up 12.3 percent and 11.6 percent, respectively.

The California Building Industry Association is a statewide trade association representing more than 6,000 businesses. The Construction Industry Research Board is a nonprofit research center established in 1974 to provide statistical information on the California building and construction industry.

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