Housing starts fell in October to their lowest levels nationally for any month since the Commerce Department began record-keeping in 1947.

Housing starts fell 4.5 percent in October from September, to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 791,000 units. Single-family starts dropped 3.3 percent, to 531,000 units - a nearly 16-year low.

Permits fell 12 percent, with the single-family category down 14.5 percent.

Although the decline in starts was expected, the 14.5 percent drop in single-family permits was not. It indicates that the industry will take a big hit from the growing U.S. economic crisis, said Patrick Newport, an economist for IHS Global Insight Inc., of Lexington, Mass.

Year over year, permits were down 40.1 percent; starts were down 38 percent.

Although the government doesn't single out metro areas, new-home construction in the suburbs outside Philadelphia actually rose 202.3 percent in the third quarter over the corresponding 2007 period.

The explanation, however, takes some of the drama out of that increase.

"The market has adjusted to the shift in demand to attached, entry-level product by introducing more townhouses and condos," said Wayne Norris, regional sales director of Hanley Wood Market Intelligence, which tracks new-home data.

"These products tend to create higher inventories, since building one unit requires the entire building," Norris said.

Philadelphia isn't included because Hanley Wood began tracking city numbers only in August 2007.

Locally, many builders are learning to deal with a slower market.

Based on the success in selling out two Delaware County developments, Murphy Homes in Newtown Square is breaking ground next month on a four-home project called Rosewood in Media.

"We are also planning to open additional projects after the first of the year," said Michael J. Murphy Jr., the company's vice president. "While we don't expect to revisit the market of a few years ago, we are very optimistic of the opportunities ahead."