Housing Starts June 2012: New Home Construction Rises to Highest Level Since October 2008

WASHINGTON -- U.S. builders broke ground on the most new homes and apartments in nearly four years last month, the latest evidence that the housing market is recovering.

The Commerce Department said Wednesday that housing starts rose 6.9 percent in June from May to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 760,000. That's the highest since October 2008.

Single-family housing starts, which account for more than 70 percent of new residential construction, rose for the fourth straight month to a two-year high. Apartment starts, which can be volatile, increased after falling in May.

The number of permits to build homes, a sign of future construction, fell 3.7 percent to 755,000. But that's down from May's level, which was the highest since Sept. 2008.

And permits to build single-family homes edged up to the highest level since March 2010. Permits to build apartments declined.

"This was a good report overall," said Martin Schwerdtfeger, an economist at TD Bank. He noted that permits remain high, which "suggests that the momentum in building activity observed in recent months should carry forward."

Single-family housing starts rose in every region of the country last month. Total starts, which include apartments, jumped 37 percent in the West and 22 percent in the Northeast, while falling in the Midwest and South.

Despite the gains, the level of housing starts and permits are roughly half what economists consider healthy.

Still, the beleaguered housing market is showing modest gains while the rest of the economy has weakened. Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke highlighted the improvement in an otherwise gloomy report to Congress on the economy Tuesday.

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