The pace of U.S. home construction rose 0.8% in March though the level of activity remained sharply below the year-ago level, a government report showed.
The Commerce Department said housing starts set an annual pace of 1.518 million units in March compared with a 1.506 million unit pace in February. Economists had forecast March housing starts to drop to a 1.495 million unit pace from February's originally reported 1.525 million units.
Building permits, which signal future construction plans, also rose 0.8% to a 1.544 million unit pace. Economists were expecting building permits to register a 1.510 million unit pace, down from the 1.532 million in February. Permits are off 25.9% from the March 2006 pace of 2.085 million units.
Meanwhile, housing completions fell 25.9% in March versus a year ago -- the biggest percentage decline since June 1982.