There was a steady whir of construction on Monday at the Folsom Ranch subdivision, where about 40 workers sawed lumber, applied stucco, hauled mulch and added other final touches to new homes near Highway 50.
Contractors supplied workers more soap and hand sanitizer and asked crews to wash their hands multiple times a day.
“Social distancing. We’ve really preached that. Washing their hands throughout the day. Being mindful of everything that you’re doing,” said John Hedge, the general superintendent with framing contractor Timberworks construction, who oversees 41 job sites in the Sacramento area.
California’s stay-at-home order has forced the closure of thousands of businesses, from shops to restaurants to entertainment venues, all to slow the coronavirus outbreak. But one sector — construction — remains open, which industry officials say is still essential to fighting a different crisis: California’s housing shortage.
Last week, Gov. Gavin Newsom designated construction as an essential service that builds “critical infrastructure” in the state.
Dan Dunmoyer, president and CEO of the California Building Industry, said that allows workers to continue building homes and other projects.
“You have hundreds of thousands of families that will have a paycheck and will continue to be able to bring in groceries, pay rent and not get behind,” Dunmoyer said.
As of January, the construction industry employed nearly 890,000 workers statewide, according to figures from the California Employment Development Department. Thousands more work in businesses tied to construction, from mortgage lenders to real estate agents.
But workers are adjusting to new safety protocols. To prevent the spread of COVID-19, builders say they are asking workers to stay six feet apart, not share tools and to avoid eating together.
Chris Schackner is foreman for Fletcher Plumbing in Loomis. He said each of his workers has been issued their own tools.
“I wouldn’t say they’re any more concerned than anybody else out here,” Schackner said of his crew. “They all want to work, they all have families to feed. They all want to buy their own houses one day.”
Newsom exempted workers from several more industries from last week’s stay-at-home mandate. Those include farm workers, those in the energy industry, transportation, logistics, manufacturing, communications and information technology, among many others. Building officials said keeping construction sites open is critical to addressing the state’s dearth of available homes.
Dealing with the outbreak “makes it certainly more challenging,” said Aren Bazzocco, Sacramento division president for home builder Taylor Morrison. “But people are still out shopping for houses, which tells me there’s still a need for homes. And the housing crisis that we’ve had over the last decade has not gone away.”
During his run for governor, Newsom pledged to help build 3.5 million new housing units in the state by 2025. Housing production, however, declined during his first year in office and the governor has backed away from his specific target.
If the outbreak continues for a long period, some expect California’s housing market will suffer.
On March 11, the California Association of Realtors revised downward its forecast for the housing market, saying “based upon our current expectations for the trajectory of the virus, the revisions will be modest unless the outbreak accelerates beyond current expectations.”
A week later, CAR surveyed its Realtors and found 78 percent “expect there will be a negative impact on home sales, up from 53 percent last week.”
Despite all the concerns, Hedge, the framing superintendent, said his crews will continue showing up to work.
“We are essential,” he said. “It’s a necessity. We’ve been in a shortage in this state for a long time. And we’re not even close to getting out of it.
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