Housing starts are on firmer ground

Helped by a surge of federal subsidized housing, the nation's new construction increased 14.4 percent in September, the Commerce Department said Tuesday. The figures included a strong 6.6 percent increase in single family homes, boosting housing industry hopes that lowered interest rates may be loosening mortgage money.

Confirming that the hard-hit housing industry sees stability of the mortgage market as the only way ''to translate housing need into housing demand,'' Michael Sumichrest, chief economist for the National Association of Home Builders in Washington, said builders will be hesitant to commit themselves.

''There will be no speculation, I guarantee you . . . builders aren't going to be jumping in there doing major projects,'' he said. ''They'll build as they sell.''

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