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US housing starts fell in April but permits surged

Most of the decline was attributed to slower apartment construction.

Mel Evans /Associated Press

Most of the decline was attributed to slower apartment construction.

WASHINGTON — Builders broke ground for fewer homes in April, one month after topping the 1 million mark for the first time since 2008. But most of the decline was in apartment construction, which tends to vary sharply from month to month.

Applications for new construction reached a five-year peak, evidence the housing revival will be sustained.

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The Commerce Department builders started construction at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 853,000, a 16.5 percent drop from the March pace of 1.02 million. Applications for building permits rose 14.3 percent to a rate of 1.02 million, the most since June 2008.

Construction of single-family homes fell 2.1 percent in April to an annual rate of 610,000. Multifamily construction, which is volatile, plunged 39 percent to a rate of 243,000. That more than reversed a 26 percent surge in March.

Housing starts fell last month in every region except the Midwest, where it rose 11 percent, compared with March. Construction dropped 28 percent in the South. It fell 13 percent in the Northeast and 6 percent in the West.

Still, the National Association of Home Builders says its builder confidence index rebounded in May to 44, up from 41 in April.

New-home sales rose 1.5 percent in March to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 417,000. That’s still below the 700,000 pace considered healthy. But sales were 18.5 percent higher than a year earlier.

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