The April 30 end of the federal homebuyer tax credit program took its toll on housing starts in May as starts overall dropped 10% from April to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 593,000, the Commerce Department reported Wednesday. Single-family starts were hit even harder, down 17.2% from April to a rate of 468,000.

However, both overall and single-family starts remained above prior-year levels, up 7.8% and 15.3% respectively. Multifamily starts (five units ormore) were up 38.3% over April to a pace of 112,000, 17% below May of 2009.

Permits also were down, with the overall annual pace off 5.9% to 574,000 and single-family declining 9.9% to 438,000. Both remained positive on a year-over-year comparison, up 4.4% and 3.1% respectively.

Multifamily permits were up 11.8% for the two-to-four unit category (19,000pace) and 9.3% for the five-units-or-more category (117,000 pace).

Regionally, starts were down sequentially in the Northeast (-4.9% to a pace of 75,000) and the South (-21.3% to a pace of 288,000). Single-family starts also were down in both regions, by 1.7% in the Northeast to a pace of 57,000 and by 26.8% in the South to a pace of 229,000. The Midwest was up 4.9% in overall starts to a rate of 107,000, with single-family down 10.9% to 82,000. The West was up 10.8% overall to 123,000 but down in single family by 2% to 100,000.

Compared to May 2009, all regions and categories were up in single family and all but the West overall. The Northeast rose 25% overall, 54.1% for single family; the Midwest was up 35.4% and 15.5%, respectively; the South was up 4.7% and 10.1% for single family; and the West was down 9.6% overall but up 11.1% for single family starts.

Sequentially, permits in the Northeast were down 1.5% overall (67,000) but up 4.3% (49,000) for single family; in the Midwest down 9.6% overall(103,000) and down 14.3% (72,000) for single family; down 5.2% (294,000) and 9.7% (233,00) respectively in the South and down 6.8% (110,000) and 13.4%(84,000) in the West.

Year-over-year, permits in the Northeast were up 6.3% and 11.4% overall and for single family, respectively; the Midwest was up 7.3% but down 4.0% in single-family; the South was up 5% overall and up 6.4% for single family; and the West was down 0.9% and 3.4%, respectively.

Housing completions in May were at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 687,000, 7.4% below the revised April estimate of 742,000 and 15.4% below the May 2009 rate of 812,000. Single-family completions in May were at a rate of 507,000, 7.8% below the revised April rate of 550,000 but up 2.4% from May, 2009.