Updated August 1 at 11:45am

‘We are crawling out of the grave’

By Patrick Anderson
PBN Staff Writer

Rhode Island’s long freefall in residential construction has finally come to an end.

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‘We are crawling out of the grave’

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Rhode Island’s long freefall in residential construction has finally come to an end.

For second time since 2005, builders began work on more new homes in the state last year than the previous year, according to U.S. Commerce Department building-permit figures.

And this time the increase was at least somewhat substantial, 25 percent year over year, compared with the 4 percent increase from 2011 to 2012.

Although an increase of 184 new units represents progress for the housing market, it’s modest relief to people in the building trades who were used to construction volume more than three times as large a decade ago.

“We are crawling out of the grave here,” said David A. Caldwell Jr., vice president of Caldwell and Johnson Custom Builders in North Kingstown. “The first half of last year especially there was an uptick, although it stalled a bit with interest rates going up and the government shutdown.”

Along with a greater number of total unit starts, 2013 also ended with 700 more Rhode Island-based construction jobs (including commercial and industrial) than 2012, an increase after near record-low job figures in 2012.

Specializing in high-efficiency and environmentally friendly residential construction, Caldwell and Johnson, like many Rhode Island builders now, works mostly on either end of the residential market, luxury or subsidized low-income projects.

That’s because recouping the cost of new construction – including land, permitting and labor – requires either government subsidies or upper-tier purchase prices, according to most builders.

Now nearly five years since the official end of the Great Recession, the pace of local construction remains a shadow of what it was in the mid-2000s, when inflated prices and cheap credit overcame the high cost of construction and resistance to new development.

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