Home builders seek uniformity, ‘essential’ status in Michigan as projects slow

BY Friday, March 27, 2020 04:05pm

Home builders across the U.S. are seeking a uniform declaration that their work is essential as states, including Michigan, issue strict stay-at-home orders to help stop the spread of the coronavirus.

Home building has mostly come to a halt in Michigan after Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s stay-at-home order early this week. While some of these projects have been deemed essential, most single-family residential builders have had to halt work under the executive order.

Meanwhile, neighboring states have contrary directives, home-builder groups say. Today the Home Builders Association asked Whitmer to consult with federal homeland security officials and colleagues around the U.S. in determining whether to shut down builders and contractors. 

“Twenty three states including Ohio, Illinois, Indiana, Wisconsin and Minnesota declared the housing industry in their states essential,” Bob Filka, CEO of the Home Builders Association of Michigan, said in a statement. “In places like Sparta, Michigan, however, builders are being told to vacate incomplete homes even if those structures pose health and safety hazards. This needs to be corrected.”

Priscilla Lyon, the executive officer of the Home Builders Association of Greater Grand Rapids, said the confusion has been “very frustrating.” 

“A lot of our members are understanding, it just stinks for everybody. Now everybody is just waiting and wondering how this is going to affect business over the next six months to a year.” 

On Thursday, the National Association of Home Builders — along with 90 companies — called on the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to designate the construction of single-family and multifamily housing as essential infrastructure business. 

Whitmer’s shelter-in-place order posed some immediate challenges for home builders, which had to quickly identify essential employees to secure job sites, said Don Miles, the owner of Coopersville-based Miles Builders LLC

Many companies have projects sitting with materials and lumber on the site, Miles added. 

“Some of the houses are halfway framed, stairways are not closed off, windows are not closed off,” he said. 

The shelter-in-place order is in place at least until April 13. Whitmer has said it is a necessary step in curbing the spread of the coronavirus so the healthcare system can meet the demands of treating the virus. She urged non-essential businesses to halt and workers to stay home for safety.

“The only tool we have to fight it at the moment and to support our health care system to respond is to give them the opportunity by buying some time,” Whitmer said. “That’s where we are headed currently, so stopping the spread of the virus is really the most important tool that we have right now to keep our communities safe. Without additional aggressive measures, soon hospitals will be overwhelmed, and we currently don’t even have enough beds, masks, gowns and ventilators.”

Additionally, Whitmer and federal lawmakers have opened a combined hundreds of millions of dollars in loans and grants for small businesses to help weather the shutdown.

Miles said the three-week shutdown has already taken its toll on smaller subcontractors. 

“It’s very critical to their infrastructure to maintain and keep working,” he said. “The banks and suppliers are not going to stop calling asking where checks are.” 

Lyon said the association in Grand Rapids is providing a support system to home builders to relay information, including advising builders to weatherize their projects. 

In the long term, a continued shutdown could affect home building and buying, she said. 

“We’re going to see a pause on home building as a whole, and you’re going to see a pause on moving,” Lyon said. “This affects realtors, buyers, people taking the next step and moving out of an apartment. That is going to cause a slowdown.”

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