01/19/2012 08:46 EST | Updated 03/20/2012 05:12 EDT

Housing starts fall, builders end 2011 with worst year for single-family home construction

WASHINGTON - Builders in the United States ended 2011 with a third straight year of dismal home building and the worst on record for single-family home construction.

The U.S. Commerce Department says builders started just 606,900 homes in 2011. That's up slightly from 587,000 in 2010 and 554,000 in 2009 — the worst year on records dating back 50 years.

In a healthy market, economists say, about 1.2 million homes are started each year.

In December, builders broke ground on a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 657,000 homes, down 4 per cent from the previous month.

Last year was the worst on records dating back a half-century for single-family home construction, which accounts for roughly 70 per cent of the market. Builders started just 428,600. In a good economy, builders break ground on about 840,000.