Housing starts and building-permit authorizations in March fell to the lowest adjusted annual rate since 1991, and the rate of single-family starts and building permits dropped for the 12th consecutive month, the U.S. Census Bureau and the Department of Housing and Urban Development announced today.

The seasonally adjusted annual rate of housing units authorized by building permits dropped about 40.9 percent year-over-year in March, to 927,000. This rate is a projection of a monthly total over a 12-month period, adjusted to account for seasonal fluctuations in construction activity of privately owned housing.

The rate of single-family homes authorized by building permits fell about 46.4 percent in March compared to the same month last year, to 606,000.

Housing starts hit an adjusted annual rate of 947,000 in March, down about 36.5 percent compared to March 2007. The rate of single-family starts plummeted 43.6 percent year-over-year in March, to 680,000.

The lead economist for the National Association of Home Builders this week reported that he expects housing starts to drop 30 percent this year compared to 2007.

Housing completions in March reached an adjusted annual rate of 1.21 million, down about 24.5 percent compared to March 2007. And the rate of new housing units under construction at the end of March was 1 million, down 15.8 percent compared to March 2007.

Regionally, the rate of housing units authorized by building permits last month fell 52.8 percent in the West, 48.1 percent in the Midwest, 34.9 percent in the Northeast and 33.5 percent in the South compared to March 2007.

And the rate of starts dropped 46.5 percent in the Midwest, 38 percent in the West, 34.8 percent in the South and 24.8 percent in the Northeast year-over-year in March.

The adjusted annual rate of building permit authorizations for buildings with five or more units dropped 21.9 percent year-over-year in March, to 286,000. And the rate of housing starts for structures with five or more units dropped 1.2 percent, to 247,000.

New residential construction data for April 2008 will be released at 8:30 a.m. EDT on Friday, May 16.

The agencies noted that month-to-month changes in seasonally adjusted statistics often show irregular movements, and it may 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 estimates of total building permits, housing starts and housing completions are revised about 1 percent, according to the report.


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