April housing starts were up 5.8% over March at a seasonally adjusted rate of 672,000 and up 40.9% compared with April 2009's rate of 477,000, according to the Commerce Department's monthly residential construction report.

However, the overall housing start rate is deceiving because starts of multifamily projects with five or more units actually fell 23.6% in April compared with March. Single-family starts were up 10.2% month over month. Over the same period in 2009, single-family starts were up 53.6% and multifamily starts were down 15%.

Starts in the Northeast and Midwest carried the bulk of the sequential monthly increase, up 23.9% and 16.7%, respectively. The South also saw a 7% boost; however, starts were down 13.3% in the West. Compared with April 2009, all of the regions saw increases: The Northeast was up 66%; the Midwest, 25%; the South, 59.6%; and the West, 3.5%. For all regions except the Northeast, multifamily starts lagged behind single-family.

The effect of the expiring home buyer tax credit can be seen in the numbers of building permits issued and housing completions as builders pushed to complete homes while at the same time slacking off on permits issued between March and April.

Housing completions in April were up 19.2% at a seasonally adjusted rate of 769,000, which came in higher than the March estimate of 645,000 but 8.7% below the revised April 2009 rate of 842,000. Single-family completions were up 14.6% from March to an annual rate of 564,000.

Regionally, the number of housing units completed was up in April compared with March by 50.8% in the Northeast, 40.7% in the Midwest, and 19.1% in the South. They were down 5.2% in the West. Year over year, housing units completed fell 31.5% in the Northeast, 3.4% in the Midwest, and 19.3% in the West. They were up 2.8% in the South.

Seasonally adjusted building permits issued in April were at 606,000, 11.5% below the revised March rate of 685,000, yet they were 15.9% above the revised April 2009 estimate of 523,000. Single-family permits were down 10.7% to a rate of 484,000.

Regionally month over month, building permits were flat in the Midwest and down by 7.4% in the Northeast, 14.3% in the South, and 16% in the West. Year over year, permits were up across the regions by 8.6% in the Northeast, 37.6% in the Midwest, 12.1% in the South, and 12% in the West.