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Builders brace for after effects of Harvey and Irma
Developers say that 45 townhouses under construction in midtown Gainesville called The Enclave will be completed in November ahead of schedule. Some fear that the massive rebuilding needed to recover from Hurricane Harvey and Irma will lead to a shortage of workers, higher prices for building materials and construction delays. - photo by Carlos Galarza
Workers labor at the site of new apartments for low-income families under construction on Atlanta Street in Gainesville. Some fear that rebuilding in areas decimated by Hurricane Harvey and Irma will stretch an already thin labor pool leading to construction delays. - photo by Carlos Galarza

The face of midtown Gainesville is changing with the development of 45 townhomes on a 4-acre tract where 13 dilapidated homes — mostly rentals — used to sit.

After breaking ground in the spring, and despite numerous rain delays, the project called the Enclave developed by Steve McKibbon and Robbie Robison is ahead of schedule and on track to be completed by November, according to spokesman John Vardeman.

Construction of the first phase of the Walton Summit apartments, a public-private venture between the Gainesville Housing Authority and developer Walton Communities to bring affordable housing to low-income families, is on schedule to have 84 units available for rent by early spring 2018, according to Walton Development Director Matt Teague.

Teague said the second phase of Walton Summit — 90 apartments for seniors — will begin this month. All told, the three-phase project will add more than 250 apartments.

However, a local building industry insider warns that projects delivered on schedule will be the exception and not the norm in the months and years to come.

The construction industry — already feeling  the pinch from a thinning pool of skilled and unskilled labor — will find it harder to find help because of the massive effort to rebuild in areas devastated by Hurricane Harvey and Irma, said Mike Roberson, executive director of the Home Builders.

Roberson expects that a good number of Georgia workers will travel to Florida where work will be plentiful, as was the case when Hurricane Andrew demolished parts of the state in 1992.

“Workers are going to follow the money,” Roberson said. “Who’s going to offer the most money? I think builders will be impacted by Harvey and Irma, no doubt about it.”

Roberson foresees a ripple effect that will filter down to the consumer.

The building boom going on locally will not likely slow down, but the cost of doing business will rise, Roberson predicts. He said the increased demand for plywood, sheetrock and other building materials not just in the Houston area and Florida, but the Caribbean as well could increase prices 15 to 20 percent.

“That’s going to be passed down to the consumer,” Roberson said. “You’re going to see construction delays.”

Although not completely sure of the impact that the two natural disasters will have short and long term, Teague said he felt confident that there will be a source of local workers who will stay put close to home.

“I don’t think we’ll be affected,” Teague said.

Vardeman said that at this stage of the Enclave project labor is not as much a concern as scarcity of materials and cost.

“Our main problem has been scarcity of building materials such as sewer pipes,” said Vardeman, speaking on behalf of McKibbon-Robison. “Looking ahead, we also anticipate we will be impacted by higher prices for building materials such as plywood due to the fact that so much lumber will be needed for the relief efforts from Hurricanes Harvey and Irma.”

Roberson said he fears that construction of much needed low-end, affordable housing will take a backseat during the anticipated crunch for labor and materials.

“Developers’ decisions are based on inventory,” Roberson said. “The demand for houses priced higher is still there.”

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