Housing starts fell 6 percent in October for the ninth consecutive monthly decline to the lowest level since June 1982 in the last recession, the Commerce Department said.
Permits for new construction were down 6.8 percent for the month, also to the lowest level since June 1982.Compared with October 1989, housing starts have fallen 26.8 percent.
The annual rate of new housing construction stood at slightly above 1 million, adjusted for seasonal factors. The annual rate for building permits was 925,000, also adjusted for seasonal factors.
October's decline in starts follows a drop of 2.1 percent in September, while last month's decrease in building permits follows a fall of 5.5 percent in September, the department's Census Bureau said.
A government spokesman said the nine consecutive monthly declines in housing starts is the worst string of losses since the Commerce Department started tracking the data in 1959.
Martin Regalia, chief economist at the National Council of Savings Institutions, said, "If things hold true to course, the November numbers will be worse."
He said consumers are holding back.
"The (consumers') money isn't there and the will and desire to extend yourself isn't there," said Regalia.
"The mortgage money is there, but nobody wants it because they're afraid they won't be able to make the payments," he added.
Construction of new single-family homes was off 1 percent in October, while construction of apartment buildings with two, three or four units dropped 8.8 percent, the report said.
Robert Villanueva, an economist at the National Association of Home Builders, said, "There's one little positive sign. The single-family sector seems to have stabilized. If we begin to get some relief from the interest rate side, we can probably keep the single-family side from dropping (further)."
Construction of larger apartment buildings, meanwhile, plunged 25.7 percent last month - to the lowest levels since August 1963, when the government started tracking apartment data, the spokesman said.
Thomas Holloway, an economist with the Mortgage Bankers Association, attributed the weak showing in the apartment sector to builders' inability to get loans.
"It's a dismal report," Holloway said.
By region, October housing starts jumped 38.5 percent in the Northeast, dipped 2.5 percent in the Midwest, dropped 10.4 percent in the South and fell 16.9 percent in the West.