Housing starts dropped 4% in December, a larger decline than the 0.2% drop analysts expected due in part to an upward revision in the November estimates, but housing permits rose a robust 10.9%, the Commerce Department reported Wednesday.

Starts of all types for privately owned housing construction came in at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 557,000, Commerce said. Though down from November, the rate remained 0.2% above December, 2008. November, meanwhile, was revised upward from a previously reported gain of 8.9% to 10.7%.

Single-family starts fell further in December, dropping 6.9% from November to a rate of 456,000. Apartment construction (5 units or more) was up 15% to a rate of 92,000.

For all of 2009, an estimated 553,800 housing units were started, 38.8% below 2008.

Driven by apparent anticipation of the spring selling season, however, permits rose in December, climbing 10.9% to 653,000, a 15.8% increase from the same month in 2008. Single-family permits also increased, by 8.3%, to a rate of 508,000, a 37.3% increase from December, 2008. Apartments were up 33.7% from November at a rate of 127,000 but down 27% from December a year ago.

An estimated 571,600 housing units were authorized by building permits in 2009, a 36.9% decline from 2008.

Housing completions in December were at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 768,000, 11.2% below November and 25.3% below December 2008.An estimated 796,000 housing units were completed in 2009, 28.9% below 2008.

Regionally, stars were down 19% from November in the Northeast to a rate of 51,000, also down 19% from December 2008, with single family down 15.9% to a rate of 37,000, a drop of 27.5% from last December. The Midwest fell 18.5% sequentially to a rate of 88,000, a 15.8% gain from December 2008, with single family falling 1.3% to 78,000, a 30% gain from December 2008. The South was up 3.3% to a rate of 310,000, a 9.5% year-over-year gain, with single family down 6% to a rate of 249,000, a 23.3% annual gain. The West was down 0.9% to a rate of 108,000, 19.4% off the December, 2008 pace, with single family down 9.8% to 92,000, a 15% year-over-year gain.

Permits in the Northeast rose 27.9% to 87,000, a 45% increase from December 2008, with single family up 8.2% to 53,000, a 26.2% annual gain. The Midwest was up 10.5% to 116,000, up 36.5% year-over-year, as single family gained 4% to 78,000, an annual rise of 44.4%. The South was up 4.6% to 319,000, 5.6% ahead of the same month last year; single family was up 7.7% to 266,000, a 33.7% annual gain. The West was up 18% to 131,000, 12% ahead of December 2008, with single family up 13.3% to 111,000, a 48% jump from December a year ago.