Adding to a recent string of disappointing economic reports, the department's Census Bureau News said housing starts dropped 16 percent from December to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 880,000. Economists had expected a rate of 950,000.
In addition, the bureau revised December's rate lower, resetting the month's seasonally adjusted annual rate from 1,107,000 units to 1,048,000. Starts in an exceptionally cold January came to 2 percent below the 898,000 annual rate of January 2013.
Permits issued for construction projects fell 5.4 percent from December's revised rate of 991,000 to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 937,000, the bureau said. The rate for permits issued came in 2.4 percent higher than the same month of 2013.
The number of completed housing projects rose 4.6 percent in January from an upwardly revised seasonally adjusted annual rate of 778,000 to 814,000.
Completions were 13.1 percent above January 2013, when the annual rate was 720,000.