Builders Address Critical Housing Needs in Katrina's Aftermath

The National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) recently offered Congress several recommendations to address the immediate critical housing needs of Hurricane Katrina evacuees and the long-term reconstruction of housing infrastructure and supply in the aftermath of the storm's extraordinary devastation.

Citing the latest estimates from the American Red Cross that approximately 275,000 homes were destroyed in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama-nearly 10 times as many as in any previous natural disaster in U.S. history-NAHB president David Wilson, a homebuilder from Ketchum, Idaho, urged the federal government to partner with the building industry to tackle the monumental rebuilding efforts.

"The task of rebuilding is unprecedented, with more than a million people homeless or displaced," Wilson told members of the House Financial Services Subcommittee on Housing and Community Opportunity. "While NAHB understands the immediate need to build temporary housing quickly, ultimately, it is important that quality housing is rebuilt and that community character is restored to affected neighborhoods."

Katrina also affected roughly 9,000 NAHB builder members who have been displaced, or lost their homes or businesses. "NAHB and its state and local associations are working as quickly as possible to get these builders back on their feet so they can begin rebuilding in their communities," Wilson said.

To help hasten and facilitate relief efforts in the near-term, Wilson urged lawmakers to ensure that the Section 8 Housing Voucher program can be used to address the emergency needs of existing voucher holders who were left homeless by the disaster, as well as the needs of newly displaced persons.

"This will require waiving statutory and regulatory provisions related to income certifications, minimum rent contributions, waiting list rules, initial inspection requirements and voucher payment standards, among others," he said.

Wilson also urged Congress to allow those uprooted by Katrina the opportunity to rapidly move into units financed with low income housing tax credits without placing an undue burden on apartment owners. This can be accomplished, he suggested, by implementing consistent program waivers for all Department of Housing and Urban Development programs.

To help new construction and rehab activities swiftly advance in the long-term, Wilson called on lawmakers to provide waivers to statutory and regulatory provisions in the FHA mortgage insurance, HOME, Community Development Block Grant, Section 108 Loan Guarantee and USDA Rural Housing Service programs.

Critical to the massive repair and replacement effort is the need for large amounts of building materials. To assist builders in their reconstruction efforts, Wilson said the federal government could help ease the impact of price spikes and shortages by rescinding tariffs on key building components.

"Exorbitant duties imposed on Canadian lumber and Mexican cement, as well as new duties on Brazilian plywood, have increased the cost of housing and contributed to shortages of materials," Wilson said, adding that the recovery from the four major hurricanes that struck the Gulf Coast region in 2004 is still incomplete, hampered by a lack of roofing, concrete and other vital materials.

"Requirements for wood products and cement cannot be met from domestic sources even during normal times, and materials costs and shortages will only be exacerbated by Katrina rebuilding efforts," he said. "Therefore, NAHB urges Congress to ask the U.S. Department of Commerce to lift the tariffs currently in place on lumber, cement and plywood."
Finally, NAHB urged lawmakers to take additional steps to address labor needs in the region, streamline the construction permitting process and create additional tax incentives for redevelopment and construction.


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