Housing starts rose 3.5% in May to the highest level in months and well above most analysts' estimates. The Commerce Department said construction of 560,000 new homes started last month compared to 541,000 a month earlier. Despite the monthly increase, new home construction in May fell 3.4% from last year. Analysts polled by Econoday were expecting housing starts of 547,000 last month with a range of estimates between 530,000 and 560,000. Economists surveyed by Briefing.com projected starts of 540,000 for May. In a joint release, the Census Bureau and Department of Housing and Urban Development said single-family home completions grew 2.9% last month to 431,000 from 419,000 a month earlier. The number of new homes completed last month rose a slight 0.4% over April with 544,000 new residences becoming part of the nation's housing inventory. Comparatively, that is down significantly from last year. The number of building permits issued in May rose 8.7% to 612,000 from a revised 563,000 for April and increased 5,2% from a year ago. May's decrease in housing starts follows a 10.6% drop in April after a 7.2% increase in March. Housing starts dropped 22.5% in February, which was the largest monthly decline since March 1984. Write to Kerri Panchuk.