WASHINGTON -- Home builders started projects in September at the fastest pace in 17 months, a hopeful sign for the economy.
Most of the gain was driven by a surge in apartment construction. That could help create jobs and boost economic growth, but it doesn't signal a comeback for the depressed housing market.
Single-family home construction, which represents nearly 70 percent of homes built, rose only slightly. And building permits, a gauge of future construction, fell to a five-month low.
Overall, builders began work in September on a seasonally adjusted 658,000 homes, the Commerce Department said Wednesday. While that's a 15 percent increase from August, it's roughly half the 1.2 million that economists say is consistent with healthy housing markets.
The spike in apartment construction last month was its best pace since April 2010, when a federal home buyers' tax credit temporarily boosted construction. Apartment building in September surged 53.4 percent. Still, single-family homes rose just 1.7 percent and building permits fell 5 percent.