WASHINGTON -- Indicating continued strength in the housing sector amid broader economic weakening, housing starts rose 1.5% in April from the previous month to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 1.61 million units, the U.S. Commerce Department reported. The increase was due entirely to a 6.7% rise in single-family home production.

The 6.7% increase in single-family starts to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 1.29 million units in April meant that sector regained all of the ground it lost in March. Meanwhile, multifamily starts fell 15.3% to a 321,000-unit rate in April, more than offsetting a double-digit gain registered in the previous month.

Regionally, starts of new homes gained 10.6% in the Northeast, 5.1% in the South and 6.8% in the West. The exception was the Midwest, where starts declined 16.7%. Building permits, which can be an indicator of future building activity, declined 2.5% overall on a less-than-1% gain on the single-family side and an 11.5% decline on the multifamily side.

Regionally, permits were mixed in April, with declines of 4.2% and 3.0% reported in the Midwest and South, respectively, a 2.1% gain posted in the Northeast, and no change reported in the West.