Permits for new homes climbed 3.6% in November compared to the previous month to hit an annual rate of 899,000 units—the highest level the industry has seen since July 2008, according to data from the Census Bureau. Year-over-year, permits were up 26.8%.

The rise was driven by the multifamily sector, which saw permits jump 10.6% to a rate of 334,000 units annually. Single-family permits were down 0.2% to an annual rate of 565,000. 

Housing starts fared worse with single-family again bearing the brunt of the bad news. Overall, starts were down 3.0% to a rate of 861,000. Single-family fell 4.1% and multifamily was down 1.0%. 

“Housing permits matter more in this report than housing starts because they are better measured, less affected by weather, and subject to smaller revisions,” wrote Patrick Newport, U.S. economist at IHS Global Insight, in a release discussing the numbers. “According to the permits numbers, the housing recovery remains on track, with the multifamily segment, whose share has increased from less than 20% in mid-2009 to 37% today, gaining speed. The single-family segment is improving, but at a snail’s pace nationally and in nearly all 50 states.” 

Newport attributed the slow single-family recovery to lack of demand, pointing to new-home sales data that showed sales only slowly picking up in recent months. He also noted the NAHB/Wells Fargo Housing Market Index, which hit a six-year high this month but saw its component measuring current traffic of prospective buyers lag far behind expectations for sales in coming months.

See the Census Bureau's full report on housing starts and permits in November.

Claire Easley is a senior editor at Builder.