Winter weather freezes housing starts in February

Construction on new homes were frozen in place in February as the economy stumbled through severe winter weather.

Housing starts fell 0.2 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 907,000 units last month, down slightly from 909,000 in January, the Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Census Bureau said Tuesday.

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"Poor weather is keeping many from getting into the field, and they continue to face challenges related to a shortage of lots and labor," said Kevin Kelly, chairman of the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) and a homebuilder and developer from Wilmington, Del.

Single-family housing construction increased 0.3 percent in February to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 583,000 units, while multifamily starts dropped 2.5 percent to a 312,000-unit pace.

"While housing construction is in a recent lull due to unusual weather conditions, we expect to see an improvement as the winter weather pattern subsides and builders prepare for the spring selling season," said David Crowe, NAHB's chief economist.

"Competitive mortgage rates, affordable home prices and an improving economy all point to a continuing, gradual strengthening of housing activity through the rest of the year.

Meanwhile, new building permits, which are a forward-looking indicator of future activity, rose 7.7 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 1.02 million units in February.

Single-family permits edged down 1.8 percent to 588,000 units and multifamily permits rose 27.6 percent to 407,000 units.

Regionally, overall permits rose 6.3 percent in the Northeast, 9.9 percent in the South and 17.9 percent in the West but declined 11.8 percent in the Midwest.

Building picked up in two of four districts — up 34.5 percent in the Midwest  and 7.3 percent in the South, while construction declined 37.5 percent in the Northeast and 5.5 percent in the West.