“We’re getting outside the Lansing bubble to hear directly from members at large around the state. Our 2017 HBA Michigan President, LR Swadley, put the vision out there
for us on this. He has sensed a growing level of overreach at all levels of government, as well as other challenges and frustrations that have been slowing new home building. He challenged us to get out on the road and find out what our guys are facing.” That is how HBA Michigan CEO Bob Filka explains a 30-day February to March burst of travel he and his government affairs team is undertaking to develop an advocacy platform for the state’s largest construction industry trade association. “While we’ve accomplished a lot over the past several years and Michigan’s residential housing industry has turned an important corner, there is still much work to do to address a new set of challenges,” noted Filka. This winter the state association is working with its 24 local HBAs to host nine gatherings of members in each part of the state. They’re inviting local state legislators to listen in and, thus far, have learned a great deal about a whole set of new (and some recast old) issues. As Filka explains it, the housing industry is kind of stuck in neutral, seeing only modest growth when many indicators would suggest many more single family homes should be being built. “We want to hear what’s holding folks back. We assume it is lack of workers and a lack of available/buildable lots, but we’re learning that there’s lots of other things at play too.”
The building industry has changed dramatically. In the past, generally builders had access to capital and plenty of workers and could build quickly and efficiently at all levels of the housing spectrum. Today, with limited capital, too few workers, local regulatory red-tape and rising building material costs (and rising demand for quality housing), many builders are focusing in on higher end markets. Its simple economics, according to Filka. “We can’t blame them. The demand is there and those that survived the downturn have options now on where and what to build. In this environment, if communities want to attract jobs to their region and actually have those job holders live in their towns, they need to think about their housing stock and the systems they have in place for builders/developers. And beyond that, if they have a shortage of some type of housing stock, look at what they might be able to do to attract such investment.” The HBA Housing Summits have revealed some positive trends for communities that are recognizing this. They’ve learned of a community waiving tap-in fees to encourage housing investment, for example. Others have lowered permit fees. At the opposite end of the spectrum, the HBA of Michigan has learned of local communities that have slowed development (whether directly or indirectly) because of lengthy and costly review and permitting processes.
The HBA of Michigan will complete its regional summits in March and issue a report to the legislature on findings and recommendations. l