Nationwide housing starts rose 14.6 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 596,000 units in January, according to figures released by the U.S. Commerce Department Wednesday. The gain was entirely due to a 77.7 percent increase in the multifamily sector, where significant month-to-month swings in activity are not unusual and where new building has been below expectations for the past several months. Meanwhile, single-family housing starts remained virtually flat for the month, with a 1.0 percent decline. “Considering the abnormally poor weather conditions that prevailed across most of the country last month, along with the continuing difficulty that builders are having in obtaining financing for new construction, the fact that single-family starts held virtually unchanged while multifamily starts posted solid gains is encouraging,” said Bob Nielsen, chairman of the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB). “Any gain in housing production means more people are being put back to work, and is a sign that builders are preparing for improving demand for new homes in the spring.” Single-family building permits fell 4.8 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 421,000 units in January, while multifamily permits fell 23.8 percent to 141,000 units. On a regional basis, combined single- and multifamily permits were down 38.5 percent in the Northeast, 5.3 percent in the Midwest, and 27.3 percent in the West, but posted an 11.4 percent gain in the South.