Work progresses at a new home construction site in Little Rock, Ark., this week. Builders ended 2011 with a third straight year of dismal home building and the worst on record for single-family home construction. (Danny Johnston/AP)

The average rate on a 30-year fixed mortgage reached yet another historic low this week, falling to 3.88 percent, according to data released Thursday by Freddie Mac. The rate is the lowest on record.

The average rate fell a fraction of a percent below last week’s record low of 3.89 and marks the seventh consecutive week where mortgage rates have averaged below 4 percent. The 15-year mortgage, which has become more popular among homeowners who are refinancing, fell to 3.17 percent, up from last week’s 3.16 percent figure.

“Mortgage rates were nearly unchanged this holiday week in lieu of a mixed bag of economic data reports,” Frank Nothaft, vice president and chief economist at Freddie Mac, said in a statement. He noted that retail sales rose only 0.1 percent in December but that the Reuters/University of Michigan consumer confidence index continued to climb in January to the highest reading since February 2011.

The historically low mortgage rates have done little to help the struggling housing industry. Data on new housing starts for December released Thursday showed 679,000 building permits, a 7.8 percent increase from December 2010, but essentially flat or down 0.1 percent compared with November 2011.

Last year marked the worst year on record for building new homes.

“The report shows the housing industry is still in a holding pattern,” said Mitchell Hochberg, principal sy Madden Real Estate Ventures in New York  “The shadow inventory as a result of foreclosures needs to be resolved, and the jobless rate must drop considerably before the sector will see any constructive movement.”

On Wednesday, the National Association of Home Builders released results of a survey showing slight improvement in the outlook for new homes this year.

Confidence among the nation’s single-family home builders rose in January for the fourth consecutive month, according to the National Association of Home Builders/ Wells Fargo Housing Market Index.

The survey, which asks builders about perceptions of single-family home sales and about expectations going forward for the next six months, showed a four-point increase in builder confidence to 25, the highest level since June 2007.