By John S. McClenahen
It remains to be seen whether the booming U.S. housing sector will get another boost from people in the middle Atlantic and northeast states who are still digging out from last weekend's heavy snows and dreaming of building residences in warmer climes. In the meantime, the latest Commerce Department data show that housing remains just about the only bright spot in a generally lackluster economy. New construction of privately owned houses and apartments was at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 1.850 million in January, 0.2% above the revised figure of 1.847 million in December 2002 and 8% higher than the January 2002 rate of 1.713 million. The strength was in single-family housing, with January starts at an annual rate of 1.510 million, 2.1% above the December 2002 figure of 1.479 million. The January figure for apartments in buildings with five or more units was 303,000, down from 332,000 last December.