NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- On Tuesday we learned that the National Association of Home Builders Housing Market Index rose another two points to 47 in December.This was the eighth consecutive monthly gain to the highest level since April 2006, but the index has been below the neutral reading of 50 since May 2006. While data for the housing market continues to improve, overly tight mortgage lending standards are preventing many families from buying a new home. The component of the HMI that measures "traffic of prospective buyers" increased by just one point to 36. The NAHB HMI peaked at 72 in June 2005, and the home builder stock bubble popped in July 2005. The record low for the HMI was 8, set in January 2009, and the home builder stocks bottomed with the broader market in the first week of March 2009. Wednesday morning we learned that housing starts declined 3.0% in November to an annual rate of 861,000 units. The important single-family starts fell 4.1% to a 565,000 annual pace. Notice on the graph below that the rise in the Housing Market Index is way ahead of the rise in new single family starts, which fell back below 600,000 in November (not shown).