The rate of private, residential building permit activity dropped about 24.3 percent in December compared to the same month last year, while starts fell 18 percent and completions dropped about 2.7 percent, the U.S. Census Bureau and Department of Housing and Urban Development announced today.

The seasonally adjusted annual rate of privately owned housing units authorized by building permits in December, at about 1.6 million, was a 5.5 percent increase from the revised November rate. This rate is a projection of a monthly total over a 12-month period, adjusted for seasonal fluctuations in construction activity.

Single-family building permit authorizations in December were at a rate of about 1.16 million in November, or 1.2 percent above the November figure and 29.1 percent below the December 2005 rate. Authorizations of units in buildings with five units or more were at a rate of 353,000 in December, down 7.3 percent compared to December 2005.

There were an estimated 1.83 million housing units authorized by building permits in 2006, which is 14.9 percent below the 2005 total, according to the report.

Privately owned housing starts in December were at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of about 1.64 million, which is 4.5 percent above the revised November estimate and 18 percent below the December 2005 rate.

Single-family housing starts in December were at a rate of about 1.23 million, which is 4.1 percent below the November figure. The December rate for units in buildings with five units or more was 350,000.

There were an estimated 1.8 million housing units started in 2006, which is 12.9 percent below the 2005 total.

Privately owned housing completions in December were at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of about 1.9 million, which is 0.4 percent above the revised November estimate of 1.89 million and 2.7 percent below the December 2005 rate.

Single-family housing completions in December were at a rate of about 1.5 million, which is 0.3 percent below the November rate. The December rate for units in buildings with five units or more was 320,000.

An estimated 1.98 million housing units were completed in 2006, which is 2.4 percent above the 2005 figure, according to the report.

The agencies noted that month-to-month changes in seasonally adjusted statistics often show irregular movements — it may take four months to establish an underlying trend for building permit authorizations, five months for total starts, and six months for total completions, for example.

Statistics in the report are estimated from sample surveys and are subject to sampling variability as well as nonsampling error including bias and variance from response, nonreporting, and undercoverage. On average, the preliminary seasonally adjusted estimates of total building permits, housing starts and housing completions are revised about 1 percent, according to the announcement.

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