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Rebuild after Harvey Hampered by Workforce Shortage

An article by Ileana Najarro published in the Houston Chronicle says that rebuilding after Hurricane Harvey’s destruction will be especially painful due to the shortage of skilled workers the area was suffering from even before the storm hit.  The article, titled Labor shortage could hamper Harvey reconstruction, quotes Texas Association of Builders executive director Scott Norman as saying, “There is not enough skilled labor to meet this challenge today, immediately.”

From the article:

The Associated General Contractors of America surveyed construction companies last month and found that 70 percent of them were having a hard time filling hourly craft positions.  The National Association of Home Builders reported about a 75 percent labor and subcontractor shortage in carpentry alone.

In the months prior to Harvey's Aug. 25 landfall, Norman said, a reduction in the size of work crews due to this shortage drove up the average time to build a new home in Texas by one or two months.

“We were experiencing a labor shortage before the storm,” he said, adding that Harvey “is only going to exacerbate it.”

Najarro also warns about unskilled and unlicensed contractors bidding for jobs, since workers are now in such high demand.  Florida construction law and litigation attorney Conrad Lazo said that “in the immediate aftermath of a natural disaster, there often is a no-questions-asked policy when it comes to verifying a contractor's permitting and licenses.  The goal is simply to find willing workers …”

MAREK President and CEO Stan Marek is also quoted in the article.  He worries how many undocumented workers would even want to join the Harvey recovery effort due to anti-immigrant sentiment nationally and in Texas, as expressed in the law cracking down on sanctuary cities, which would allow police officers to question a person's legal status.

The article continues:

Paul Puente, executive secretary of the Houston Gulf Coast Building and Construction Trades Council, said he would rather recruit workers from within Texas or neighboring states.

“As we get people to come in, what we don't want to see if H2B visa workers taking away work from local laborers,” Puente said, referring to the federal program that permits immigrant workers for specific classes of jobs.

Puente said he is confident local personnel will be up to the task ahead.  He cited recent efforts by unions, community colleges and independent firms to offer apprenticeship programs for low- and middle-skills workers.

Read the entire article for more information, and to view photos of contractors whose home remodeling project turned into a post-hurricane home cleanup.

Photo courtesy Houston Chronicle