160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set! The weather was blamed for part of the setback. November and December had been unusually mild while more normal winter weather returned to much of the country in January, depressing building activity. However, economists said the depth of the decline showed that housing was still facing major problems after a five-year boom that ended last year with falling construction and declining sales of both new and existing homes. David Seiders, chief economist of the National Association of Home Builders, said that builders were slashing sales prices and offering other incentives such as upgraded kitchens and free decks to move homes. “The use of incentives has not abated,” he said. “The percentage of builders trimming prices has been increasing and the use of nonprice incentives is expanding as well,” he said. The housing report showed that applications for new building permits, considered a good barometer of future activity, fell in January for the 11th month out of the past 12, dropping by 2.8 percent to an annual rate of 1.568 million units. WASHINGTON – Housing construction plunged to the lowest level in nearly a decade last month as the housing industry continued to struggle with a severe slowdown. Meanwhile, wholesale prices dropped by 0.6 percent in January, the biggest amount in three months, providing fresh evidence that inflation pressures are easing. Construction of new homes and apartments plunged by 14.3 percent in January, pushing total activity down to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 1.408 million units, the Commerce Department reported Friday. The decline pushed activity to the slowest pace since August 1997 with construction in January 37.8 percent below the pace of a year ago. The steep decline last month followed two months of construction increases that had raised hopes that perhaps the worst of the housing slump was over.