HOUSTON (Houston Chronicle) – Third-quarter figures reveal Houston-area home starts on the steepest decline in 20 years, caused by the credit squeeze, weak consumer confidence and Hurricane Ike.

Home starts in all price ranges fell in the quarter, with entry-level properties the hardest hit.

Builders started 6,733 homes from July through September, 29 percent fewer than during the same period in 2007, according to Houston-based Metrostudy.

The research firm estimates between 26,000 and 28,000 homes will be built in the area by the end of 2008, just over half of the 50,000 home starts two years when the market peaked.

Ike’s trail of destruction through the area put many builders a month behind on construction. This, coupled with the difficulty in securing loans for land, has contributed to the slowdown.