By PAUL WISEMAN
AP Economics Writer
WASHINGTON (AP) — U.S. builders broke ground on fewer apartment buildings last month, pushing total home construction down by 3.7 percent from March.
The Commerce Department said Wednesday that housing starts fell to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 1.29 million in April, the lowest seen since December. Apartment construction tumbled 12.6 percent to 374,000. The construction of single-family homes blipped up 0.1 percent to 894,000.
Still, housing starts are up 10.5 percent from April 2017, the result of a 7.2 percent increase in single-family homes, and a 19.1 percent surge in apartments.
Home construction has increased steadily since the housing crash hit bottom in 2012. Even so, the pace of homebuilding is below its long-run average of about 1.5 million a year, which has led to a shortage of homes on the market. Home builders are struggling with higher prices for lumber and other building materials and a shortage of skilled laborers.
A strong job market is giving Americans the confidence they need to shop for houses. Millennials are increasingly moving out on their own to buy their own homes
Demand for housing is strong despite an increase in mortgage rates: The rate on the benchmark 30-year, fixed-rate home loan is 4.55 percent, up from 4.05 percent a year ago.
“We expect housing starts to continue to gain ground through 2018, supported by positive fundamentals such as low unemployment and healthy wage increases, which are expected to offset higher mortgage rates,” Leslie Preston, senior economist at TD Economics, wrote in a research note. “At the same time, tight inventories and rising prices will continue to support homebuilding.”
In April, housing starts fell 16.3 percent in the Midwest, 12 percent in the West and 8.1 percent in the Northeast. They increased 6.4 percent in the South.
Building permits, an indicator of future construction, fell 1.8 percent in April to a seasonally adjusted 1.35 million.