Congress may have approved the tax credit extension last November, but builders still had a slow December in terms of sales and construction.

According to data released Monday by the U.S. Census Bureau, construction spending for new single-family homes increased just 0.6% on a monthly basis to a pace of $113.7 billion. Multifamily activity saw more of a drop, falling 4.4% to $21.2 billion monthly pace.

Compared to last December, those figures represent a 17.6% reduction in construction spending for single-family and a 44.7% plunge for multifamily, both of which have suffered from excess supply of their product, low consumer demand, and a lending crisis that has made it difficult to start new developments or refinance old ones.

Overall, the nation’s construction spending for public and private projects slipped 1.2% in December to a seasonally adjusted pace of $902.5 billion. That figure stands 9.9% below the same month one year ago.

The Census Bureau also released its annual estimates of construction spending, pegging the value of private residential construction at $252.2 billion in 2009, which is a 28% decrease from the previous year.

Still, even in a difficult year for housing, private residential spending (which encompasses new single-family and multifamily construction as well as residential improvements such as remodeling) contributed roughly one-fourth of the United State’s $939.1 billion in spending for all construction, which includes roads, hotels, schools, offices, factories, and more. 
Alison Rice is senior editor, online, at BUILDER magazine.