Housing starts for the month of September fell 6.3%, to a seasonally-adjusted annual rate of 817,000, according to estimates from the Commerce Department. The number was well below expectations, as projections were for a decline of 3.0%, to 870,000. In the past year, housing starts have fallen 31.1% and are currently at their worst level in 17 years.

New construction on single-family homes fell by 12.0% for the month, to an annualized rate of 544,000. Construction on buildings with 5 units or more rose 5.8%, to 254,000 units, in a clear sign that rental properties are in demand.

Regionally, total starts fell by 20.9% in the Northeast and 16.7 in the West. Surprisingly, starts made a gain in the South, a hotbed for the housing over-exuberance that has occurred. Starts rose 0.5% in the region, complementing a gain of 5.6% in the Midwest.

Building permits, an indicator of future construction, did fall sharply, by 8.3%, to a 27-year low of 786,000 annualized units. Permits for single-family homes fell 3.8% to 532,000. Building permits are down 38.4% in the past year.

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