Led by a strong surge in new condos and apartments in the state’s southern areas, California housing production improved in February, climbing 7.7 percent from a year ago, the California Building Industry Association announced today.

According to data compiled by the Construction Industry Research Board, total housing starts, as measured by building permits issued, totaled 15,571 in February, up from 14,463 in February 2005.

Single-family starts, however, dropped nearly 14 percent from a year ago to 8,978. Multifamily production totaled 6,593, up almost 64 percent from a year ago.

CBIA Chief Economist Alan Nevin said the numbers bode well for a solid year in 2006.

“The permit count for the first two months of 2006 is virtually the same as the first two months of 2005,” Nevin said, noting that total production for the year is down just 1.4 percent. “The key difference is that the number of multifamily units permitted is well ahead of last year, while single-family starts are down. The majority of the multifamily gain is in the Los Angeles area and is a result of the start-up of numerous new rental and condominium projects in downtown Los Angeles.”

A total of 2,390 building permits for condos and apartments were issued in Los Angeles County in February, compared with 818 in February 2005 and 791 in January 2006. Multifamily starts in Los Angeles County year-to-date totaled 3,181, up almost 66 percent from the first two months of 2005 and nearly one-third of all the multifamily construction statewide so far this year.

Nevin said the decline in single-family housing could be attributed to builders continuing the efforts to clear out their standing inventory, saying he continues to expect that construction will pick up in the second quarter of the year. He also noted that the tremendous increase in multifamily units is normal, and that such growth is not expected on a consistent basis.

“Single-family homes are typically permitted in small increments. Conversely, multifamily homes are generally permitted in large numbers — whole buildings are permitted simultaneously. Therefore, the permitting of multifamily projects can be erratic from month to month. Having said that, it appears that our projections for 2006 are on target.”

The CBIA Housing Forecast, authored by Nevin, predicts that in 2006, California’s housing production will drop slightly compared to the near-record construction activity in 2004 and 2005 to between 185,000 and 205,000 homes, condominiums and apartments, compared with about 213,000 in 2004 and 208,000 in 2005.

The California Building Industry Association is a statewide trade association representing about 6,500 businesses, including home builders, remodelers, subcontractors, architects, engineers, designers, and other industry professionals. A recent study determined that home-building generates approximately $60 billion a year to the California economy and creates an estimated 526,000 jobs statewide.

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