How worried should we be that outbreaks and lockdowns might stall much-needed new housing construction?
The December jobs report released last week highlighted just how fragile our ongoing recovery is in the face of a still-raging pandemic. Lockdowns and business closures have cost the economy hundreds of thousands of jobs, largely in the service sector. At the same time, the construction industry added jobs in December pushed, in part, by homebuilders working to meet skyrocketing housing demand.
Much of the US mortgage and housing industry is counting on these homebuilders. The country is facing a chronic housing shortage after a decade of underbuilding and without more supply coming online, high demand could see home prices skyrocket. But can the COVID-19 pandemic derail these homebuilding efforts? Could widespread outbreaks and government lockdowns hit the housing supply that so many American industries and consumers sorely need?
“To our knowledge, we’ve not seen massive outbreaks in the homebuilding industry,” said Rob Matuga, AVP of labor, safety and health at the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB). “I think part of that is the fact that we got ahead of this early on in the pandemic and we’ve put together a lot of training and educational materials for companies and the workforce.”
In the first days of the pandemic, Matuga met with colleagues from 27 different organizations responsible for health and safety in the various subsectors of the construction industry. They quickly put together a set of guidelines for crews to follow to keep workers safe while they completed vital construction work. Those guidelines included risk assessments for different projects and crews, emphasis on self-isolation if one feels symptoms, hand hygiene and, as regulations have changed, the strong suggestion of wearing face coverings as well as adherence to any state and local mask mandates.
The nature of homebuilding construction, as largely outside and well-ventilated, has also played a part in controlling outbreaks on worksites. Crews tend to be small and self-contained, especially during the finishing period when a build site is more enclosed.
Matuga explained that the construction industry has been well equipped to implement new pandemic-related safety measures because of the inherently dangerous nature of construction work. Managers and workers already comply with long lists of health and safety regulations. They’re trained to keep themselves safe, whether with a hard hat or a mask and a bottle of sanitizer.
Just because the homebuilding industry has fared relatively well up to this point, Matuga doesn’t assume these construction projects are COVID-proof. He and his team are working to address any holiday-related case spikes and this week the NAHB is hosting a health and safety stand down. Construction crews across the country will be pausing work for a talk about how they can better keep themselves and their co-workers safe, from both the hazards of construction work and the threat of COVID-19.
“Everything that we’ve been telling our members about the safety protocols and practices is flowing down from the Centers for Disease Control, as well as the Occupational Safety and Health Administration,” Matuga said. “We’re taking that information and getting that out to our members. I think that that’s going to ensure that our workers are safe and continuing to work to make sure that homebuilders continue to provide that housing for the individuals that need it.”