The housing industry finally got some good news today, as the U.S. Census Bureau reported an 8.2 percent increase in overall housing starts for April.

That represents 1.032 million total starts last month. However, multifamily buildings provided all of that boost, with a 36 percent jump for structures of two units and above. In contrast, single-family starts declined 1.7 percent, to 954,000.

Building permits, an important indicator of future housing activity, also inched upwards by 4.9 percent in April, to 978,000. Single-family permits also rose, showing a 4 percent gain to 646,000.

Regionally, April starts provided a mixed picture. Total starts dropped 12.7 percent in the Northeast, but rose 3.6 percent in the South, 18.5 percent in the West, and 24.4 percent in the Midwest.
Housing experts urged builders not to get too excited about the report, however. “The only potential good news to take away from this report is that the rate of decline of housing activity is likely to decline in the months ahead--permits have fallen well below the 1 million mark and are down 55 percent from their peak in early 2006,” said Brian Bethune, an economist with Global Insight in Lexington, Mass. “However, it is definitely too early to uncork the champagne on the long and winding road to more healthy housing market conditions.”

Alison Rice is senior editor, online, for BUILDER magazine.