It takes a certain level of confidence in the future to commit the time and capital needed to turn shovels and swing hammers to build anything, whether a house, storefront, office tower, bridge, windmill, or any other structure.
With an abrupt halt to residential construction in Washington state, one of our area’s most foundational economic industries, we are beginning to comprehend how serious the spread of the COVID-19 virus has jeopardized the confidence in our future.
On March 25, Gov. Jay Inslee distributed a memo clarifying that residential construction would not be allowed, after his initial order left ambiguity within the construction trades. Throughout this period, the Central Washington Home Builders Association (CWHBA) has been working with local authorities and welcomes the positive interactions happening in jurisdictions like Yakima County, the city of Yakima, the city of Cle Elum, and the Chelan-Douglas Health District. Responsive communication and creative solutions that have supported safe housing efforts confirm a commitment to community.
Ensuring members of our community have ready access to safe, economical homes is essential to meeting one of the most basic human needs and providing suitable housing security during these times. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, the median new house price for Wenatchee was just shy of $400,000. Estimates also show that for every $1,000 in price that a house increased, an average of 64 families were priced out of being able to buy a new home. The existing housing shortage in Central Washington, coupled with the complete construction delay throughout the state, will continue to drive housing prices to unprecedented levels, making attainable housing that much more difficult for the average family.
And at this moment, building houses for families is more about safety than ever before.
Strict safety precautions have been established and utilized on sites that are allowed to continue work, namely government construction sites or to those that are working to avoid damage. These safety measures are not optional — they are the rules of doing business in the new reality we face today. But it demonstrates that companies can undertake construction safely, as long as employers and employees take all appropriate steps to ensure that safe work practices are in place and followed. Safety is and will remain a priority.
There is no playbook for navigating the health and economic crisis that we face because we have never been through anything approaching the scale of what COVID-19 is unleashing. We must continue to build, repair, and maintain the critical structures our communities rely on to sustain themselves, including infrastructure, hospitals, schools — and homes. And we must do this within the safety directives mandated by the appropriate authorities. Let’s do everything we can to help our families, neighbors, and communities continue to have access to secure housing. At the same time, we must face the challenges before us and follow the directives of the physical distancing protocols.
Chelsea Snodgrass is Executive Officer of the Central Washington Home Builders Association, which represents 600 companies in Chelan, Douglas, Okanogan, Kittitas, Yakima and Klickitat counties.