U.S. home builders slightly cut back their projects in October but housing permits increased during the month, adding a mixed picture to the struggling housing market, the Commerce Department reported Thursday. For October, U.S. privately owned housing starts were at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 628,000, 0.3 percent lower than the revised estimate for September 2011, but 16.5 percent above the level of October 2010. Single-family housing starts in October were at a rate of 430,000. That was 3.9 percent above the revised September figure of 414,000. Privately owned housing units authorized by building permits, a gauge of future construction, were at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 653,000, up 10.9 percent from the revised September level, and 17.7 percent above the October 2010 estimate. The U.S. housing industry has been suffering its worst slump in decades since 2007. A sharp home price decline, a persisting credit crunch and continuing foreclosures are keeping some potential home buyers from loosening the purse strings, a major drag on the overall U.S. economy. Many analysts believe that it will take three or five more years for the U.S. housing market to return to a normal level.