WASHINGTON -- Housing starts dropped 16.5% to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 853,000 in April, the largest decline since a 17.9% fall in February 2011, the Commerce Department reported Thursday.

The April level receded from the revised estimate of 1.021 million for March, originally reported as 1.036 million, the department said.

April building permits rose 14.3% to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 1.017 million from the previous month's rate of 890,000 originally reported as 902,000.

That was the largest monthly increase since an 18.6% surge recorded in June 2008, and the rate was also the highest since that month.  

April starts were far below the 973,000 projected by economists polled by Thomson Reuters, but were 13.1% above the April 2012 rate of 754,000.

Regionally, housing starts rose 10.9% in the Midwest but fell 27.9% in the South, 6.2% in the West, and 12.8% in the Northeast. The massive drop in southern starts was the steepest since March 1984, when starts dropped 29.3%.

Building permits rose 22.3% in the Midwest, 16% in the South, and 12.9% in the West. Permits dipped 2% in the Northeast.

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