By John S. McClenahen Economists generally expected U.S. housing starts to rise in March after a couple of months of decline -- but not by as much as they did. Numbers released jointly by the U.S. Commerce Department and U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development on April 16 put privately owned housing starts last month at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 2.007 million, 6.4% above the revised February figure of 1.887 million. A rate of 1.91 million had been expected for March. Single-family housing starts were at a 1.599 million annual rate in March; multifamily housing starts were at an annual rate of 377,000. There's reason to believe residential construction will continue to rise in the near term. Privately owned housing units authorized by building permits were at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 1.946 million in March, 1.9% higher than the revised February rate of 1.909 million.