By John S. McClenahen Economists were pretty sure that higher interest rates and a bit of consumer caution would cause U.S. housing starts to slow in September. They were wrong. Housing remained strong. Starts for privately owned housing rose to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 1.888 million last month, 3.4% above their revised August rate of 1.826 million, the U.S. Commerce Department and U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development jointly reported on Oct. 17. Starts for single-family homes were at an annual rate of 1.52 million, 3.1% higher than August's 1.474 million. However, a bit of a slowdown may be in the works. Building permits for privately owned housing fell to an annual rate of 1.86 million in September, 2.2% below August's revised rate of 1.901 million, estimates the Commerce Department's Census Bureau.