WASHINGTON – U.S. builders broke ground on fewer apartment buildings last month, pushing overall home construction down 3.7 per cent from March.
The Commerce Department said Wednesday that housing starts fell to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 1.29 million in April, lowest since December. Apartment construction tumbled 12.6 per cent to 374,000. Construction of single-family homes blipped up 0.1 per cent to 894,000.
Still, housing starts are up 10.5 per cent from April 2017 on a 7.2 per cent increase in single-family homes, and a 19.1 per cent surge in apartments.
Home construction has grown steadily since the housing crash hit bottom in 2012. The pace of homebuilding is still below its long-run average of about 1.5 million a year, which has led to a shortage of homes on the market. Home builders are struggling with higher prices for lumber and other building materials and a shortage of skilled labourers.
A healthy job market is giving Americans the confidence to shop for houses. Millennials are increasingly moving out on their own to buy their own homes
Demand for housing is strong despite an uptick in mortgage rates: The rate on the benchmark 30-year, fixed-rate home loan is 4.55 per cent, up from 4.05 per cent a year ago.
“We expect housing starts to continue to gain ground through 2018, supported by positive fundamentals such as low unemployment and healthy wage increases, which are expected to offset higher mortgage rates,” Leslie Preston, senior economist at TD Economics, wrote in a research note. “At the same time, tight inventories and rising prices will continue to support homebuilding.”
In April, housing starts fell 16.3 per cent in the Midwest, 12 per cent in the West and 8.1 per cent in the Northeast. They rose 6.4 per cent in the South.
Building permits, an indicator of future construction, fell 1.8 per cent in April to a seasonally adjusted 1.35 million.