Housing starts fell 22.5% in February, well below most analysts' estimates and to the lowest rate in almost two years, according to Commerce Department data. In a joint release, the Census Bureau and Department of Housing and Urban Development said starts fell to a seasonally adjusted rate of 479,000 units, down from a revised 618,000 for January and 20.8% lower than a year earlier. The monthly drop was the largest since March 1984. February's decrease comes on the heels of a 14.6% increase in starts for the first month of 2011. Analysts polled by Econoday were expecting housing starts to come in at 560,000 with a range of estimates between 540,000 and 590,000. Economists surveyed by MarketWatch projected starts to come in at 570,000 for February. Single-family starts fell 11.8% in February to 375,000 from a revised 425,000 for January. Permits for new homes in February declined 8.2% to 517,000 from a revised 563,000 for January and remain 20.5% below the year earlier estimate of 650,000. Write to Jason Philyaw.