Updated to add homebuilder comments.
New home construction plummeted in August, led by a nosedive in multifamily starts, the Commerce Department reported Thursday.
According to the government's figures, privately owned housing starts last month were at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 956,000, marking a 14.4 percent month-over-month drop. July's rate of new homebuilding was revised up to 1.12 million.
Compared to last year, August starts were up 8.0 percent.
While apartment construction has led single-family homebuilding in most of this year's previous gains, the opposite was true in August's report: Multifamily starts (five units or more) plunged 31.5 percent in August to an adjusted annual rate of 304,000, while single-family starts were down a more modest 2.4 percent to 643,000.
Overall, groundbreaking on new units was down by double-digit percentages in all regions of the country, declining the most—24.7 percent—in the supply-starved West. That was followed by a 12.9 percent decline in the Northeast, a 10.9 percent decline in the South, and a 10.3 percent decline in the Midwest.
Isolating single-family homebuilding, it was a slightly different story: Starts picked up 16.7 percent in the Northeast and 0.6 percent in the South while falling 12.7 percent and 8.1 percent in the Midwest and West, respectively.
The Commerce Department also reported weaker permit issuance than in July. According to the report, building authorizations last month were at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 998,000, placing August permits nearly in the middle between July's rate of 1.06 million and last August's rate of 948,000.
Again, the monthly decrease was led by the multifamily segment. Among buildings with five units or more, permits were at a rate of 343,000, a decline of 13.4 percent. Single-family permits were at a rate of 626,000, down 0.8 percent.
The government report came one day after the National Association of Home Builders' (NAHB) confidence index for September, which showed builder sentiment rising to its highest level since 2005 despite current weakness in new home sales.
"Our members are telling us that traffic to new model home sites and sales expectations are on the rise," said NAHB Chairman Kevin Kelly on Thursday. "Despite the monthly blip, single-family starts are still 8 percent above last year's level."