The Top Five Political Issues Affecting Builders
Government regulations account for nearly 25% of the cost of building a typical new single-family home—almost $85,000—according to NAHB statistics, pricing 14 million Americans out of homeownership. By placing a freeze on all regulations passed during the final months of the Obama administration and issuing executive orders directing federal agencies to identify regulations that could be eliminated or revised, the Trump administration has done “a lot of good work trying to lessen the regulatory burden on the American economy,” says NAHB chief lobbyist Jim Tobin.
Despite this loosening of regulations, there are still many legislative challenges that could slow the pace of home building in coming months. Here is a rundown of the top political issues impacting the housing industry this election cycle and how the NAHB is addressing them. (Click here for an inside look at the NAHB’s lobbying process.)
THE ISSUE: Since President Donald Trump slapped import duties averaging 21% on timber from Canada, the cost of 1,000 board feet of western Canadian lumber rose nearly 80% this year. It’s a big problem for home builders because nearly one-third of the 47.6 million board feet of softwood lumber used in the U.S. last year was imported, and 93% of those imports were from Canada, according to NAHB statistics. That means builders are paying $1,350 more per home, according to Bloomberg, and they may not be able to pass along that cost to buyers as the interest rate rises.
THE RESPONSE: In June, NAHB chairman Randy Noel was among a delegation that urged Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross to return to the negotiating table with Canada. NAHB also persuaded 171 House members to sign a letter to the administration urging the U.S. to resume negotiations, boost domestic production, reduce exports, and seek out new markets to reduce the nation’s reliance on Canadian lumber. NAHB also is working to clear regulatory hurdles that constrain domestic lumber production.
LABOR & IMMIGRATION
THE ISSUE: As unemployment hovers around 4% and the Labor Department reports there are nearly 6 million unfilled jobs in the United States, the Associated General Contractors of America says that 86% of construction companies can’t find qualified workers.
THE RESPONSE: NAHB’s government affairs team is extremely concerned about how Trump’s immigration policies are affecting the labor pool. Immigrants make up about 17% of the U.S. labor force and about 25% of construction workers. NAHB is working with several associations to push for an employee verification system, robust protections for employers, and a visa system specifically for the construction industry.
In addition, about one-quarter of immigrant workers are undocumented, and the question of whether and/or how to provide a pathway to legal status for them is a political minefield, Tobin says. “The business community is all on the same page when it comes to immigration reform, but it’s the subtleties that tend to drive the debate and cause some of the stalemates in Washington,” he says.