DHS designates home building as essential

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has designated the construction of single-family and multifamily housing as an “Essential Infrastructure Business.”

The guidance from DHS allows some home building firms to keep their businesses open during the COVID-19 pandemic and help to stabilize the housing industry.

The National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) said it was at the forefront among all housing groups in calling on DHS to make this designation.

“Americans depend on a functioning residential construction sector to provide safe, affordable housing for our citizens, and this need is especially acute during this pandemic,” said NAHB Chairman Dean Mon. “Moreover, a healthy housing market is critical to maintain a sound economy."

"I commend DHS for heeding the urgent concerns of the housing community and taking this decisive action to assure the men and women of the industry will be able to stay on the job and serve the needs of the American people at this critical time," Mon added.

The National Lumber and Building Material Dealers Association (NLBMDA) has also viewed the designation as a victory.

In a statement issued by the NLBMDA this morning, it said, "These operations are important for lumber and building material (LBM) dealers and their ability to continue operating. LBM dealers were previously designated as essential critical infrastructure and NLBMDA has been working with DHS and other industry groups to have the agency recognize construction as essential."

“NLBMDA made a strong case to CISA that construction activity is critical for both the COVID-19 response and the U.S. economy as a whole,” said Jonathan Paine, NLBMDA president and CEO. “We are pleased to see this recognition and will be urging state and local governments to follow the CISA guidance on construction to ensure LBM dealers and their supply chain can continue operating to help their communities and the domestic economy.”

Despite the designation from the DHS, this isn’t a federal order on what is essential business. States can make their own determination.

This is the case in New York where Gov. Andrew Cuomo put a halt to non-essential construction, including residential construction, on March 28.

New York has ruled that the only essential construction that can continue includes roads, bridges, transit facilities, utilities, hospitals or health care facilities, affordable housing, and homeless shelters.

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf made a similar decision on March 21, stopping all "non-life sustaining businesses" and ceasing construction projects across the state.

The latest guidance issued by the DHS followed an effort spearheaded by the NAHB, which included 90 companies and organizations sending a letter to Acting Secretary of Homeland Security Jack Wolf.

The letter urged Wolf to designate the construction of single-family and multifamily housing as an Essential Infrastructure Business.

“As cities and states issue declarations and public health orders as a result of the crisis, it is essential that communities have access to our professionals to build and maintain essential services including: building, plumbing, residential property management, rental housing operators, roofing, electrical, HVAC systems, waste/wastewater treatment plants and power generations,” the letter reads. “Home construction, including those industries listed above, should be designated as ‘essential’ because it is necessary to maintain safety, sanitation, and economic security.”