Unusually cold weather in the Northeast and North Central states is expected to reduce housing starts by 16 per cent during the first quarter with a resultant loss or postponement of the construction of some 60,000 new dwellings.

Robert Arquilla, new president of the National Association of Home Builders, yesterday told a group of convening NAHB area vice presidents here that the disruption caused by protracted low temperatures could prevent the anticipated 1.8 million homes starts from being achieved in 1977, unless the rate of production is accelerated during the last three quarters of this year.

Citing statistics gathered by the staff of NAHB chief economist Michael Sumichrast, Arquilla said that January housing starts were down by 45 per cent in the eastern and central states.

Near and below-zero temperatures in January caused the loss of 120,000 man years of employment in construction, Arquilla added. It is estimated that it takes two man years of labor to build one dwelling.

Statistics developed in a survey of residential construction in 60 cities also revealed that activity was down by 13 per cent in the South, which usually accounts for 40 to 45 per cent of housing activity during winter months. However, housing activity was reported 5 per cent above average in the West, because new-home sales have been exceptionally strong in Southern California in recent months.

The somewhat gloomy report from the new NAHB president came just a week after the annual home builder convention-exposition closed in Dallas on a wave of confidence. Most estimates on private housing starts in 1977 were in the range of 1.8 to 1.9 million.