Housing Starts Dip Slightly in February; Permits Surge

(Los Angeles Times/MCT) -

Construction of new housing units remained essentially flat last month, compared to January, as builders struggled to ramp up construction.

Housing starts fell 0.2 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 907,000, the Commerce Department said Tuesday. February’s rate came in slightly below expectations, although January’s dismal start numbers were revised upward to 909,000 from 880,000.

The new construction data come as the housing recovery wavers slightly.

Homebuyers have struggled to adjust to higher prices and mortgage rates. And more builders now view the new home market as poor, rather than good – a sharp reversal from just a few months ago, the National Association of Home Builders said Monday.

Builders cite a shortage of skilled labor and ready-to-build lots among their problems.

Partly because of those issues, new construction hasn’t yet hit historically normal levels, despite a rapid housing recovery early last year.

Developers say they are trying.

Building permits, a gauge of future construction, surged 7.7 percent from January. Further construction would provide an economic boost and ease an inventory crunch that sent home prices soaring last year.

Housing starts climbed in the South and Midwest last month from January, but fell in the Northeast and West. Starts plunged 37.5 percent in the Northeast, which experienced harsh weather in February.

Builders broke ground on 5.5 percent fewer homes last month in the West, a major home-building region spared the extreme weather.