Hurricanes cause local construction costs to rise

Paris Ridge, Sable Homes
Construction at Sable Homes' Paris Ridge development near Caledonia. (Oct. 16, 2017)

LEIGHTON TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WOOD) — Weeks after three major hurricanes barreled into the Gulf Coast, Caribbean islands and southern U.S., we’re feeling the impact here in West Michigan. Home builders say you can expect higher costs because of those storms.

The rebuilding effort down south is driving up the cost of projects locally, like Sable Homes’ Paris Ridge development southwest of Caledonia. Fortunately, Sable President John Bitely said the company has what it needs to get the job done.

“Our vendors have already planned for our needs,” Bitely said. “But it is tight. There isn’t extra stuff.”

Bitely said industry demands had already driven up costs of many building projects long before Harvey and Irma decimated parts of the South.

Local lumber yards told 24 Hour News 8 Monday there are no shortages yet. Prices were up pre-hurricane. But as they begin swinging hammers to rebuild after the storms, we’re bound to feel the impact here.

“It will be a kick when were down,” Bitely said. “Supplies are already tight — manufacturers, whether it’s shingle-makers or dry wall-makers or the lumber or the timber that we use.”

MORE CONSTRUCTION WORKERS NEEDED

It’s not just materials driving up costs. The industry was dealing with a serious labor shortage before the hurricanes hit.

One reason for the shortage is there are fewer people like Phil Van Popering on job sites these days. Twenty-five years ago, Van Popering went to college, got a degree in education and started teaching.

“Just really wasn’t what I wanted to do,” VanPopering said.

So he got into the construction trades. Today, he supervises projects like the Paris Ridge development.

“If you learn a trade and you become good at what you do, there’s a market for you,” VanPopering said.

Experts say that nationally, about 6 million construction jobs are unfilled. The shortages are expected to be exacerbated by Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria.

“How many people will go southern states for jobs?” wondered Bitely, the Sable Homes president.

The hurricane effect is the symptom of a larger problem. During the recession, few new homes were going up. Builders weren’t hiring and apprenticeships, the pipeline for skilled trades in the industry, all but dried up.

“Hence, we’re missing a generation, and now we’re trying to train them faster without that missing link,” Bitely said.

The shortage is hitting new home buyers right in the mortgage.

“Prices are already up. There is nobody in our industry that hasn’t seen significant raises,” Bitely said.

The Home Builders Association of Greater Grand Rapids is trying to turn the labor shortage around with a work force development program.

“We’ve tried to go into the school to encourage counselors to encourage young people to consider careers, whether it’s carpentry, whether it’s electrical, whether it’s plumbing,” Bitely said.

He says those jobs allow students to earn while they learn, avoid the cost of a four-year university and give them a good shot at a high-paying, high-skill job in just a few years.