With an upturn in multifamily construction, housing production rose by a marginal 1.3% in February to a seasonally adjusted, annual rate of 1.78 million units, according to a recent Commerce Department report.

Multifamily housing starts rose 19.5% to a rate of 472,000 units, while single-family starts fell nearly 4% to a rate of 1.31 million.

"The effects of higher mortgage rates are starting to be felt in the single-family housing market," said Robert Mitchell, president of the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) and a home builder from Rockville, Md.

Mitchell said today's figures, as well as a recent NAHB survey, indicate builders are less optimistic about the future and are gradually scaling back their plans for single-family home construction. The fact that housing permits fell across the board in February is another indication that a gradual slowdown is in the works, he said.

Starts rose by more than 21% in the Northeast and Midwest last month; gains that are likely attributable to good weather conditions. "We had one of the warmest Februarys on record," Mitchell noted.

The South and West, which are less susceptible to extreme winter weather, posted an 11.3 % decline and 1.3% gain in housing starts, respectively.

Permits for housing construction were down across all categories and regions last month. They fell 8% overall to a rate of 1.63 million units, as single-family permits declined 7.7% and multifamily permits dropped almost 9%.

The Northeast and Midwest each posted double-digit declines in permits of 17.3% and 11.1%, respectively. The South and West reported 3.8% and 8.4% declines, respectively.