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housing_starts_shrinkHousing starts shrunk in March, a bit of a let-down following a sharp increase in February’s new residential construction. A recent report by the Commerce Department shows that new construction starts fell by 8.8 percent to an annual rate of 1.089 million in March after a 6.9 percent increase in February.

While a subtle fall back was expected—economists had predicted housing starts to drop by about 0.9 percent to a rate of 1.167 million—this dip was not anticipated.

“The initial data reported for March did not meet analyst expectations and reflects real concern regarding the monthly trend in new construction, especially in multi-family,” says Realtor.com Chief Economist Jonathan Smoke.

Single-family housing starts in March were at a rate of 764,000, 9.2 percent below the revised February figure of 841,000.

“One reason to take the headline numbers with some skepticism is that the apparent decline was in the seasonal adjustments,” says Smoke. “The non-seasonally adjusted numbers showed that permits increased in March by 17 percent, which was only slightly lower than last year’s 18 percent increase in March. It is highly likely that the less severe winter may have pulled forward more activity into February from March, thus juicing last month’s very positive report on starts and delivering this disappointing report.  Looking at the longer-term trend, starts are up 14 percent over last year, and we’re seeing substantial growth of 23 percent in single family homes.  The most troubling trend in starts is the 2 percent decline in multi-family on a year-over-year basis. We had anticipated that single-family would start to outpace multi-family growth in 2016, but an actual decline would limit housing’s contribution to economic growth and would also lead to continued low vacancies and shortages in rental housing.

It’s still early in the year so these trends can change (and indeed the data could be revised next month).  However, this anemic pace of activity, especially in multi-family, will not help us address the serious lack of affordable housing that the country faces.”

To view the housing starts in full, visit www.census.gov.

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