The nation’s home builders offered yet another grim assessment of the nation’s housing market—and by extension, the economy—today, with a reading of 9 for the NAHB’s monthly Housing Market Index (HMI). For better or for worse, that is the same reading as November, when the HMI fell to its lowest since the index began in 1985.

“We have seen no improvement over the past month in terms of sales conditions for new homes,” said David Crowe, NAHB’s chief economist. “In fact, certain factors have gotten progressively worse, not the least of which is the job market, where massive layoffs are having a devastating effect on consumer confidence. At this point it will take definitive government action to stop the slide in home values and turn the tide of consumer sentiment.”

Such trends are also reflected in the December HMI. While the overall number held steady at 9, two of the index’s three components eroded in December. Present single-family sales dropped one point to a level of 8, and sales expectations for the next six months fell two points to a reading of 16. Only buyer traffic remained the same, at a level of 7.

“While builders are doing everything we can in the way of price and non-price incentives to move new homes off the books, buyers are afraid to move forward, and in any case there is almost no way to compete with the cut-rate product that is continually flooding the market from mounting foreclosures,” said NAHB President Sandy Dunn, who is a builder in West Virginia. “Congress and the administration must step in with substantial incentives to bring qualified buyers back to the table as well as effective foreclosure relief programs if we are to end this negative spiral that is weighing so heavily on our national economy.”

Alison Rice is senior editor, online, at BUILDER magazine.