WASHINGTON-- The number of U.S. housing starts in January jumped 6.3% to their highest pace in almost two years, according to a recent U.S. Commerce Department report.

Builders began work on new homes at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 1.678 million units last month. The rate was up from a revised 1.579 million rate in December.

The last time the pace of new starts was faster was in February 2000. Builders broke ground at a 1.745 million rate.

Building permits rose 3.1% in January to a 1.706 million seasonally adjusted annual rate, up from a 1.654 million rate in December. This was the highest rate since January 2001.

Regionally, housing starts increased 14.4% in the South to a pace of 800,000.

Starts increased by 8.7% in the Northeast. In the West and the Midwest, housing starts fell by 3.6% and 0.3%, respectively.

Starts on single family homes rose 3.5% to a seasonally adjusted annual pace of 1.345 million units. Multi-family starts rose 8.3% to 287,000 units.