The rate of single-family housing starts and building permits in November sank to the lowest level since 1991, the U.S. Census Bureau and the Department of Housing and Urban Development announced today.

The seasonally adjusted annual rate of building-permit authorizations for new single-family housing units fell about 33.7 percent in November compared to the same month last year. The monthly rate of 764,000 in November was the lowest since June 1991, when it stood at 763,000.

This rate is a projection of a monthly total over a 12-month period, adjusted to account for seasonal fluctuations in construction activity.

Single-family housing starts dropped to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 829,000 in November, down about 34.9 percent compared to November 2006. This was the lowest rate since April 1991, when it stood at 819,000.

The rate of total building-permit authorizations — including single-family homes and multi-unit structures — dropped 24.6 percent, from 1.53 million in November 2006 to 1.15 million in November 2007. This November 2007 rate was the lowest since the June 1993 rate of 1.13 million.

And the rate of total housing starts fell to 1.19 million in November, down 24.2 percent from the November 2006 rate. This rate was comparable to the September 2007 rate of 1.18 million — the lowest rate since the July 1992 rate of 1.14 million total starts.

The rate of total housing completions dropped 28.7 percent, from 1.89 million in November 2006 to 1.34 million in November 2007 — the lowest level since January 1998.

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

Statistics are estimated from sample surveys and are subject to sampling variability and 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 report.

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