The Commerce Department this morning reported that housing starts fell 14.2% in December from a downwardly revised November estimate to an annual rate of 1,006,000, a 38.2% drop from the revised December 2006 estimate of 1,629,000 and the lowest rate since 1991. For all of 2007, housing starts fell 24.8% from 2006 to 1,353,700, the biggest decline since 1980.

Single-family starts fell more modestly, down 2.9% in December from November at a rate of 794,000, down 36% from December 2006.

Housing permits also were down by 8.1% in December from the month before to a rate of 1,068,000, down 34.4% year-over-year. single-family permits fell by 10.1% from November to an annual rate of 692,000 in December, a drop of 41.4% from December, 2006. For the year, 1,376,100 housing units were authorized by building permits, 25.3% below 2006.

Housing completions in December were at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 1,302,000, 7.7% below the revised November estimate and 31.0% below the revised December 2006 rate of 1,887,000. Single-family completions in December were at a rate of 1,009,000, 12.0% below November. An estimated 1,500,200 housing units were completed in 2007, 24.2% below the 2006 figure of 1,979,400.

Regionally, on a month-to-month basis, overall starts were down 25.8% in the Northeast; 30.8% in the Midwest; 3.3% in the South; and 19.6% in the West.single-family starts were down 7.4% in the Northeast; 9.3% in the Midwest; up 5.4% in the South; and down 16.3% in the West. On an year-over year basis, starts were down 45..4% in the Northeast; 35.4% in the Midwest; 30.7% in the South; and 51.3% in the West. Also on a year-over-year basis, single-family starts were down 29.9% in the Northeast; 29.4% in the Midwest; 30.0% in the South; and 54.1% in the West.

Permits on a month-to-month basis were up 1.6% in the Northeast; down 10.6% in the Midwest; down 7.8%% in the South; and down 11.6% in the West. single-family permits were up 1.5% in the Northeast; down 14.4% in the Midwest; down 9.5% in the South; and down 12.7% in the West. On a year-over-year basis, permits in the Northeast were down 26.2%, with single-family down 27.4%; down 28.8% in the Midwest, with single-family down 30.4%; down 34.9% in the South, with single-family down 43.9%; and down 40.4% in the West, with single-family down 47.3%.