Thanks to efforts by NAHB and state home builder associations, the few remaining states that have halted residential construction activity due the COVID-19 pandemic — Michigan, New York, Pennsylvania, Washington and Vermont — are taking steps to allow home building to resume production.
In a critical win for NAHB and the residential construction sector, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) on March 28 designated construction of single-family and multifamily housing as an “Essential Infrastructure Business.” Although this designation was not binding for individual states, most states followed the federal guidelines.
To keep workers safe on the job site, NAHB and other members of the Construction Industry Safety Coalition put together a Coronavirus Preparedness and Response Plan for Construction that outlines the steps every employer and employee should take to reduce the risk of exposure to and transmission of COVID-19. It describes how to prevent worker exposure to coronavirus, protective measures to be taken on the job site, personal protective equipment and work practice controls to be used, cleaning and disinfecting procedures, and what to do if a worker becomes sick. The plan served as the basis for materials provided for the COVID-19 Job Site Safety Stand Down held April 16.
While it was clearly demonstrated that residential construction could continue in a safe manner as long as workers were cautious and altered their normal behavior to comply with these new safety guidelines, five states refused to designate home building as an essential business. NAHB and the state home builders associations remained in contact with the five governors and state officials and now that is changing. Here is the latest update:
Michigan: Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D) said in an April 27 news conference that she may soon allow construction to restart in the state if the trajectory of coronavirus hospitalizations goes down and testing goes up. She told Politico that “low-risk” work such as construction and other “outdoor enterprises” could reopen in the next phase.
New York: Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) has announced plans to reopen regions of the state in coordinated phases, starting with construction and manufacturing, in mid-May. The Empire State’s number of cases and death rate from the coronavirus is the highest in the nation.
Pennsylvania: Gov. Tom Wolf (D) announced that all businesses in the construction industry are permitted to resume in-person operations beginning on Friday, May 1, as long as mandatory safety protocols are in place. The order says that operations can resume “pursuant to the Governor’s and Secretary of Health’s April 20, 2020 amendments to the Business Closure Orders so long as their activities strictly adhere to this guidance.” View more details here.
Washington: Gov. Jay Inslee (D) announced the first phase of construction openings in his state on April 24. Reps. Dan Newhouse (R) and Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R) also contributed to this effort. More details on the construction openings can be found here. Building Industry Association of Washington Executive Vice President Greg Lane was part of the working group that developed the safety guidance to allow construction to begin in the state.
Vermont: As of April 27, Gov. Phil Scott (R) allowed outdoor home building activities to resume with a maximum of five total workers per job site. Interior construction may occur in uninhabited structures, adhering to social distancing standards, with no more than five workers maintaining social distance between them whenever possible.