Most would think as the economy slows the availability of building materials and products for the home would be more plentiful and lower priced. However, there is a good chance the opposite may be true over the next few months. Building products are heavily driven by commodities like lumber, oil, and steel. When those raw materials face supply disruptions, that can trickle down the supply chain. COVID-19 (coronavirus disease) is slowing the production and delivery of raw materials in certain building material sectors as the requirement of social distancing is limiting manpower. Plus, there are some companies that have closed due to the disruptions.
Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) has demonstrated to most Americans that you cannot completely rely on the government to supply all your needs in times of turmoil and emergencies—you may be on your own. This was also evident in the government’s responses to the major hurricanes in New Orleans and Puerto Rico as well as the large wildfires in California. Since the 1960s, many Americans have been programmed to believe that in times of need and emergency, the government will always be there to rescue them. These events show that this is simply not true.
If you believe that reliance on government is limited, especially in times of great need and emergency, a discussion must be had from local government to the halls of Washington, D.C. about encouraging homeowners and businesses to get off the grid and become more self-reliant.
Because of technology, at no point in mankind is getting off the grid and living comfortably become so available to everyone. The challenge is that most laws and codes in all areas of government discourage getting off the grid. They are used to promoting conformity in society, which leads to great reliance on government and its services. Just maybe, the master designers of communities should rethink how the homes of tomorrow are to exist within the various networks.
The deficiency that is evident in all these national emergencies is the reliance on single infrastructures. For example, one water system, a single computer network, or power grid could literally control the survival of millions of people if knocked out by a terrorist or deadly virus. Conformity in codes and jurisdiction restrictions are making communities more vulnerable.
What can be done to avoid this type of mass conformity in codes and regulations, which could lead to mass disruption?
First, encourage solar energy everywhere—even in cities. The notion of one power plant and a few strands of wire servicing millions of people is archaic. If you don’t want to cripple your community or nation during a national emergency, let the builders and great electrical engineers of the country start powering homes and businesses off the grid with solar and wind. Propane generators are becoming popular with intervals of power outages and this technology has advanced to make switchovers seamless from traditional and nontraditional power sources.
Massive water and sewage facilities are less expensive because of scale. However, if one goes out, millions of people are left without water and basic sanitation. The states, especially Florida, that have an abundance of water should encourage well and septic systems with enhanced technology that protect the environment. Desalination plants along the coastal lines of Florida could provide an alternative to water as this technology advances. Finally, for those who have a water well that operates off an electric pump, you should consider investing in a hand pump system, which can be used during a power outage.
The days of running cable lines are quickly coming to an end with satellite and fifth generation (5G) cell phone technology. Although these are great when power is available, there can be gaps. The country should not completely abandon radio frequency technology and homeowners should be mindful that an old-fashioned battery radio is a great alternative during a crisis.
Finally, landscaping ordinances must be modified to allow home vegetable gardens and small animal production. Codes should be modified where homeowners can freely plant vegetable gardens and raise small animals, such as chickens, to provide their family with a source of food. As seen during the coronavirus outbreak, many items such as eggs and vegetables are in short supply. Homeowners wanting to provide for their family should be allowed to, regardless of building codes and deed restrictions by homeowners associations.
A home is not a showplace; rather, it is a place to provide shelter and raise a family. It should be a place where a family can be self-reliant with the land they own. Only in America are homes restricted where their true value cannot be utilized—this needs to change. Too many people on one system puts everyone in peril.
Don Magruder is the CEO of RoMac Building Supply, and he is also the host of the “Around the House” Television Show which is hosted weekly on Lake Sumter Television.
The Covid-19 coronavirus outbreak, along with the collapse in the oil sector, is putting enormous stress on the United States economy. The White House, Congress, and The Fed are scrambling for ways to fire up the economic engines. Most of the proposed stimulus programs are one-time shots, industry giveaways, and Wall Street bailouts that seem to mainly benefit the mega-corporations.
If government really wants to crank up the American economy and solve a national problem with little to no cost to the taxpayers, it should implement a real National Affordable Housing Program targeting lower and middle-class workers. If government, at all levels, would shake out all unnecessary regulations, needless government fees, and excessive corporate greed from affordable housing, housing starts would surge from the current levels of 1.3 million up to 2.5 - 3.5 million.
Up until the Great Recession, housing has always been the igniter of the United States economy. It was Wall Street’s greed, through bundling and bizarre financial instruments, that ruined the housing industry. A real American Affordable Housing Program that can crank up the economy and solve the national shortage of homes for working families must be free of Wall Street greed and influence. Yes, it should be a government program administered by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).
The first and most important aspect of this program is to identify what housing qualifies for affordable housing. The number should be based on what is affordable for lower and middle-income families in the area. Here in Lake and Sumter Counties, that number is $215,000 or less. The program would not be available for housing that cost more than what has been identified in the affordable range. We do not want to fund McMansions again for people on the upper end.
Secondly, mortgage money, controlled interest rates, zero down payment and government backed mortgage insurance should be available to lower and middle-class workers. The caveat for not allowing profiteering off this program would be that the mortgage guarantor, the United States Government, would repossess the property in case of default; the homeowner must make the home their homestead; and they could not sell the property for more than the purchase price for 7 years. The home would be registered in the National Affordable Housing Registry and would have restrictions placed upon it to prevent greed from ruining the program. The homeowner could sell the home for the original selling price and get back any equity.
You need land for affordable housing developments. Both the Federal and State government can participate in helping private developers to make property available. There should be a targeted lot price to qualify for the program. The land must be deed restricted for affordable workforce housing for a period of 20 years to discourage profiteering of the program. Property owners that sell tracks of land for affordable housing projects would pay no capital gains tax and the United States government would pay for all infrastructure costs up front for affordable housing developments and allow the municipalities and utilities to reimburse the cost over a 20-year low interest government bond. Bond costs would be covered by local taxes and fees.
States and local governments’ involvement would be in the reduction and waiving of building fees and impact fees for all nationally registered affordable housing projects. Affordable housing zones should be developed that would take the increased valuations in the land's taxable value and the increased tax receipts for land improvements like a Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA). The revenue could be used for bonded schools and road infrastructure instead of impact fees.
There is so much more that can be done if the Federal, Sate, and local governments truly decide to address the huge affordable housing shortage in America. This program could crank up housing starts above 2.0 million units for several years providing jobs, income, and real wealth to Americans without really costing the taxpayer anything. Why not focus on a real problem and have something to show for it, instead of another Wall Street corporate bailout that rewards greed?
Don Magruder is the CEO of Ro-Mac Lumber & Supply, Inc., and he is also the host of the “Around the House” Television Show which is hosted weekly on Lake Sumter Television.