REDUCING OVERHEAD: Dave Dansereau operates his Woonsocket Awning Co. under the mantra of “all awnings are custom-made by owner on premises.” A focus on energy efficiency, as well as a sluggish economy, have helped his business.
Rhode Island’s decimated residential construction industry has three small pockets of activity, according to Rhode Island Builders Association Executive Director John Marcantonio.
“A good chunk of new construction is in high-end luxury homes on the water, or in other areas, where cost is no issue,” said Marcantonio. “Another portion of the new units are subsidized, affordable housing.”
A third segment of construction – remodeling – is providing some work for small builders and contractors willing to grab small and medium-sized projects.
“In the last six to eight months I’m hearing from remodelers and small builders that work has picked up for them,” Marcantonio said. “We have a bunch of remodelers in our group, and I know sometimes they can’t make a meeting because they’re working. So that’s a good sign.”
The dramatic decline in new residential housing units over many years has put Rhode Island builders in a state of limbo that’s cast a pall over the industry in the Ocean State, he said.
“There is literally no new home supply being built. … The cost of land, local zoning and density restrictions, wetlands, stormwater runoff, impact fees for school and services – all this has created the perfect storm of inactivity,” said Marcantonio.
The housing market is picking up by varying degrees in regions across the United States as the economy shows signs of recovery from the Great Recession.
“Rhode Island is different from the rest of country,” said Marcantonio. “It’s been a downward slope since what we call, in our industry, the depression in 2007. It’s so dramatically off from where it was.”
From 2,639 single-family building permits issued in 1999, the number of permits declined to 1,458 in 2007 and went down to 682 units in 2012, according to data from RIBA.
For the first and second quarters of 2013, a total of 319 single-family building permits were issued.
The lack of new housing leaves the Rhode Island landscape dotted with an abundance of older homes – which are, naturally, often in need of repair or upgrading.
That’s one bright spot for remodelers and small builders – at least those who are left standing.