Housing starts took an unexpected jump in February, climbing 22.2% from January to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 583,000, the Commerce Department reported Tuesday morning. The rate, however, remained 47.3% below February, 2008.

The increase was driven by multi-family starts (buildings with five or more units), which was up 79.7% to a rate of 212,000. Single-family starts rose only 1.1% from January to a rate of 357,000 in February, 50.6% below the same month last year.

Permits also were up 3% to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 547,000, 44.2% off last year's pace. But single-family permits rose 11% to a rate of 373,000, still 42.3% off the pace in February 2008. Permits for mulitfamily buildings with five or more units declined 9.8% to 156,000.

Completions in February were up 2.3% to an annual rate of 785,000. This is2.3 percent , but is 37.3% (±7.7%) below last February. Single-family completions were up 8.2% to a rate of 505,000, 44.3% off last year's pace.

Regionally, starts were up 88.6% in the Northeast, with single-family up 54.2%; up 58.5% in the Midwest, with single-family up12.8%; up 30.2% in the South, with single-family up 2.5%; and down 24.6% in the West, with single-family down 24.1%. Permits were up 27.6% in the Northeast, where single-family permits were down 12.2%; flat in the Midwest, with single family up 27.5%; up 5.9% in the South, with single-family up15.6%; and down 13.6% in the West, with single family flat.