U.S. housing starts and building permits fell more than expected in May, the government reported Tuesday, suggesting the housing recovery likely will remain slow as many Americans still struggle to afford new houses.
The Commerce Department said builders began work at an annual rate of 1.01 million homes last month, down 6.5 percent from 1.07 million in April.
Groundbreaking for single-family homes, the largest part of the market, fell 5.9 percent in May to a 625,000-unit annual pace, while starts for the volatile multi-family apartments segment fell 7.6 percent to a 376,000 rate.
Housing starts have risen 9.4 percent over the past 12 months, but apartments account for most of the gains, suggesting that more Americans will be renting instead of owning homes.
Permits to build homes, a measure of future activity, fell 6.4 percent in May to an annual rate of 991,000. Permits for single-family homes rose 3.7 percent to a 619,000-unit pace, but they continue to lag actual housing starts, suggesting single-family starts could decline in the coming months. Permits for apartments plunged 19.5 percent to a 372,000-unit pace.
Housing is struggling to regain momentum after a rise in mortgage rates last year and sharp increases in home prices lowered demand. A shortage of properties on the market also has hurt the sector.
Federal Reserve (Fed) Chair Janet Yellen said last month there was a risk that a lengthy housing slowdown could undermine the broader economy.