Hurricane Harvey has exacerbated an already steep shortage in labor in some construction trades, leading to price increases and lengthy delays, according to industry experts.
“We estimated statewide in all construction trades, before Harvey, we had a 700,000-person shortage,” said Scott Norman, executive director of the Texas Association of Builders. “That number could easily be over a million now.”
Hurricane Harvey made landfall Aug. 25 in Rockport, about 200 miles south of Galveston County. It dumped more than 50 inches of rain in some parts of this county, swelling creeks and bayous and flooding an estimated 20,000 homes in the county and devastating parts of Houston.
Contractors in Galveston County already voiced concern about a potential shortage of building materials and are now saying they have seen labor shortages in certain areas.
“There’s some shortages,” said Bill Pittman, co-founder of Bilmar Homes in Santa Fe. “Some areas include trim contractors and those who are putting doors on — those guys are having a hard time finding people.”
Those installing insulation, drywall and cabinetry also are seeing labor shortages in the county, said Alfio Fichera, president of Fichera Builders.
Prices for labor have risen because of the shortages, Pittman said.
“Contractors are out there paying more than normal to get people to show up and do demo work,” Pittman said. “So laborers are all leaving their fields and doing that for a short period of time, because that’s paying top dollar and they’ll make more money doing that than trim.”
Area contractors were divided about the causes of shortages in Galveston County.
“With Ike I saw so many bigger names coming in to town,” said Beau Rawlins, a contractor who owns Rawlins Residential Builders in Galveston. “People like Servpro and the Sullivan Brothers were able to capitalize on the concentration of work.
“For Harvey, it has been the polar opposite. There are no job groupings. It’s individual homeowners fending for themselves either subbing work on their own or hiring small companies that can do the work in stages because there are so few payments issued thus far from the insurance companies.”
Most laborers that work in the area don’t live in Galveston and are staying out with so much more work in the Houston area, Fichera said.
“A lot of the crews are depleted,” Norman said. “A lot of the laborers left to do their own thing, thinking they can go do it themselves and make more money. So, you’ll have a roofing crew with 10 guys, but seven left to do their own thing. So, it’s still around, but it’s less efficient.”
Those subcontractors that remain are simply overwhelmed at how much work there is to do in the Houston-Galveston area, Norman said.
“The Houston area was on pace to do about 25,000 to 30,000 homes this year,” Norman said. “Easily that many or double (the number of) homes were destroyed by the storm. And that doesn’t count Beaumont or Port Arthur. And then a whole bunch of houses, like 100,000 or 200,000 had some damage. Those can be saved, but they still need work.”
The storm came at a difficult time for the construction industry, as experts were trying to figure out how to lure new and young employees into the field, Norman said.
The average age of an electrician as of a few years ago was 59 years old, Norman said. “A plumber is 62. Those folks are going to be leaving the industry soon, and we aren’t replacing them with new people.”
Experts have begun focusing on high school classes, but that won’t help labor shortages in the short-term, Norman said.
“The industry is just not scaled to handle this,” Norman said. “We are concerned and worried. People just want to get their lives back together and have everything fixed. But there are not enough workers out there.”