Local governments are issuing fewer permits for the construction of new housing than last year -- with the exception of those in Maryland's inner suburbs, where there is a building boom.

There were 14,857 permits for new units of housing -- including detached houses, townhouses, and apartments -- in the Washington area in the first five months of the year, compared with 15,807 in the comparable period of 2004. The drop doesn't necessarily mean builders are becoming hesitant; it could indicate that governments are restricting development more.

Different jurisdictions authorize housing construction at different paces. So far this year, close-in Maryland counties have issued permits at the fastest rate: Prince George's County issued permits for 635 more housing units through May than in the first five months of 2004, an 82 percent increase. Montgomery County allowed 437 more, up 26 percent. (In percentage terms, Arlington County in Virginia had a bigger gain, nearly quadrupling, but that's because of a minuscule base of 15 permits last year and reflects a gain of only 56 permits.

Meanwhile, two of the Virginia counties that have led the region's growth in the past decade issued fewer permits. Loudoun issued 244 fewer permits, a 9 percent drop, and Fairfax issued 1,477 fewer permits, down 54 percent.

-- Neil Irwin