Nationwide housing starts turned upward for the first time in eight months this February, posting a 22.2 percent gain that was due primarily to a big bump on the often-volatile multi-family side, according to numbers released from the U.S. Commerce Department.

“While welcome news, this gain only reflects a modest rebound from January, which was the worst month in history for new-home production,” said National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) Chief Economist David Crowe. “The majority of the gain was due to characteristic volatility on the multi-family side, while single-family housing starts were up just over one percent for the month.”

“Builders did pull a larger volume of single-family permits in February, suggesting a glimmer of hope for the prime home buying season, which is near at hand,” said NAHB Chairman Joe Robson, a home builder from Tulsa, Okla. “That said, we realize there's a need to be extremely cautious in terms of new building activity going forward, because there's still quite a lot of inventory out there that needs to be absorbed as foreclosures continue to flood the market in many areas.”

Total U.S. housing starts rose 22.2 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 583,000 units in February. This gain reflected an 82.3 percent surge to a 226,000-unit pace on the multi-family side and a 1.1 percent gain to a 357,000-unit pace on the single-family side. Building permits, which can be an indicator of future building activity, rose 3 percent overall to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 547,000 units in February. This reflected an 11 percent gain in single-family permits to 373,000 units and a 10.8 percent decline in multi-family permits to 174,000 units.

By region, building permits recorded a 27.6 percent gain in the Northeast, no change in the Midwest, a nearly 6 percent improvement in the South, and a 13.6 percent decline in the West in February.