The housing imbroglio that sparked the year-long economic tailspin keeps getting worse, as the U.S. Commerce Department on Wednesday reported that housing starts nationwide slumped 6.2% in August. That's the worst showing since January 1991. Analysts had expected a 1.6% drop.

Housing starts declined at a seasonally-adjusted annual rate of 895,000, with single-family starts falling 1.9% and multi-family starts plummeted 15.1%. The Northeast  and the Midwest saw the biggest drops--14.5% and 13.6%, respectively. The South registered a 7.4% decline, while the West broke ranks with a 10.8% gain.

In a troublesome near-term sign for the housing market, building permits sank 8.9% during August. That was also a 17-year low.