Privately owned housing starts in February were 22.2 percent above the revised January estimate of 477,000, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Single-family housing starts were at a rate of 1.1 percent above the January figure - about 357,000.

“While welcome news, this gain only reflects a modest rebound from January, which was the worst month in history for new-home production,” said National Association of Home Builders Chief EconomistDavid Crowe. “The majority of the gain was due to characteristic volatility on the multifamily side.”

Regionally, the only area of the country to post a lower rate of total housing starts for February was the West, with a 24.6 percent decline. The Northeast posted the largest gain, of 88.6 percent, reflecting a rebound from a nearly equal decline in the previous month. Meanwhile, the Midwest posted a 58.5 percent gain following a deep plunge in January, and the South posted a 30.2 percent gain. January-February averages were well below the monthly averages for the final quarter of 2008 in all regions of the country.

Building Permits

The number of building permits pulled in February for single-family homes was 11 percent about January’s figure of 336,000; permits for all privately owned housing units rose 3 percent to a rate of 547,000. Authorizations of units in buildings with five units or more were at a rate of 156,000 in February.

Building permits can be an indicator of future building activity.

“Builders did pull a larger volume of single-family permits in February, suggesting a glimmer of hope for the prime home buying season, which is near at hand,” said NAHB ChairmanJoe Robson, a home builder from Tulsa, Okla. “That said, we realize there’s a need to be extremely cautious in terms of new building activity going forward, because there’s still quite a lot of inventory out there that needs to be absorbed as foreclosures continue to flood the market in many areas.”

By region, building permits recorded a 27.6 percent gain in the Northeast, no change in the Midwest, a nearly 6 percent improvement in the South, and a 13.6 percent decline in the West in February.