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Housing starts rise slightly in May, still well below a year ago

June 16, 2009 | 10:14 am

Housing starts in May moved up to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 532,000. That's 17.2% above the April estimate, the Commerce Department reported. But April was the cruelest month for housing starts, which were at a 50-year low that month.

The May housing starts rate was still 45.2% below the rate of May 2008.

Those figures are for all types of housing. Single-family home starts were up 7.5% from April, but down 40.9% from May 2008.

Single-family starts, which are less volatile than the figures for apartments, have been holding steady or increasing slightly since January, which has cheered some market watchers.

But starts have a long way to go to catch up to even the 2008 rate, which was the lowest by far since the Census Bureau began tracking starts in 1959. Last year was the first time housing starts dipped below 1 million units (2008 total starts were 905,500), and we're on track for to fall below that record low this year.

Housing units completed were at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 811,000 in May. That was down 3.3% from April and 28.8% below the May 2008 rate. Single-family completions were down even more: The May rate was 9.4% below April, and down 43.4% from May 2008. 

-- Peter Y. Hong