The Commerce Department reported Thursday morning that housing starts fell 15.5% in December from already depressed November levels to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 550,000, 45% below December of 2007. It was the lowest annual rate since January, 1991.

Single-family starts were down 13.5% from November to 398,000 in December, roughly half what they were in the same month a year before.

Permits suffered a smaller monthly drop, down 10.7% from November to 549,000 in December but 50.6% off the 2007 pace. Single family permits were down 12.3% month-to-month to 363,000 in December, down 49.1% from December, 2007.

Completions in December were at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 1,015,000, 5.2% below November and 23.6% below December, 2007. Single-family completions were down 13.1% from November to a rate of 668,000, 34.9% off December, 2007.

Regionally, starts were up 12.7% in the Northeast for all housing types, with single family up 17.9%; down 24.7% and 27.6%, respectively, in the Midwest; down 22.2% and 9.7% in the South; and down 2.2% and 22.7% in the West. Permits were down across the board: -10.3% for all housing types and -11.1% in the Northeast; -19.4% and -22.4%, respectively, in the Midwest; -2.4% and 8.2% in the South; and -21.1% and -14% in the West.

Compared to December, 2007, starts in the Northeast were down -38.6% for all housing types and -37.8% for single family; the Midwest -41.6% and -47.5%; the South -49.5% and -50.8%; and the West -38.5% and -50.0%. Permits in the Northeast were down -54.5% and -43.7%; -50.0% and -49.1% in the Midwest; -49.1% and -49.7% in the South and -52.2% and -50.3% in the West.