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A Problem in Common: Balancing Regulations With Environmental Stewardship

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A Problem in Common: Balancing Regulations With Environmental Stewardship

To find the balance between fees and regulations and address issues of environmental stewardship and housing affordability, keep in mind that we all caused this problem, so we all should share in the costs and solutions to fix it

March 4, 2020
Banner about no affordable housing because costs are up due to regulations
Regulatory excess means affordability distress ... The issues are complex and the stakes are high. What role should home builders be expected to play and how much should they pay? | Photo: Rich Binsacca
This article first appeared in the March 2020 issue of Pro Builder.

I’m torn. On one hand, I believe human-caused climate change is at least partially to blame for the wonky weather patterns, rising oceans, and increasingly intense storms, wildfires, and droughts we’re witnessing around the globe. The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is not a natural occurrence. 

I’m also against rolling back environmental protections for water and air quality, and I support reducing carbon emissions and saving water. My 1.28-gallon toilet flushes just fine, thank you, and on the first try. Let’s not go backward and undo the progress we’ve made

But I’m also sympathetic to the plight of home builders and developers being squeezed by too much regulation and too many fees that undermine attainability and profitability. I’m reminded of Luke Pickerill, president and owner of Monte Vista Homes, in Bend, Ore., who told me, “When the numbers don’t work [to build attainable middle-class homes], the city’s first response is to charge more fees”—an all-too-common refrain.

So, I get it, and I don’t think it’s fair. We all contribute to the problems with our environment, as well as homelessness (a societal, not a housing, problem), and we all should share in the costs to fix them. 

But asking the public to pitch in is a hard sell. Most folks think they already pay too much in taxes and perceive poor stewardship of it. Living in Oregon, I can tell you our state and local governments make up for lack of a sales tax by increasing fees on a multitude of services—a thousand cuts that are bleeding us out of vibrant, healthy, and diverse communities. 

Directing the bill at development and building is far easier. After all, developers and builders make tons of money, right? 

Well, excuse me, Mr. and Ms. Lawmaker, Environmentalist, NIMBYer, and others with that generalized misperception and rationalization, your ignorance and laziness are showing.

We appear to be stuck, so what’s the solution? In the short term, protect yourself by fine-tuning every aspect of your operation to be efficient, predictable, and mission-driven. Proven tools are available (and have been for years) to help boost profitability and better withstand outside forces.

Longer term—and while I admit it is grossly unfair—I think our industry must sincerely reach out to its oppressors and make nice. No, seriously, invite a councilman to walk your jobsite, a code inspector to have coffee with you, a lawmaker to attend your next lunch-and-learn. Get to know them personally, and them you—and not to directly influence policy, but to broaden perspective and respect, on both sides.

Too simplistic? Maybe, but then I think of Project Kudos, an internal program of gratitude at Schell Brothers, a builder in Rehoboth Beach, Del., that has since expanded to spread goodwill across an entire community. Follow that lead, and I predict better times, and a better balance, ahead.


Access a PDF of this article in Pro Builder's March 2020 digital edition


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Written By
Editorial Director

Rich Binsacca is editorial director of Pro Builder Media, Custom Builder, and PRODUCTS. He has reported and written about all aspects of the housing industry since 1987 and most recently was editor-in-chief of Pro Builder Media. rbinsacca@sgcmail.com


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