A political effort to allow wood high-rise construction, backed by congressmen and senators from lumber-producing states, is facing pushback from lobbying groups for the steel, concrete, stone, and masonry industries. Washington Congresswoman Suzan Delbene's office announced the legislative proposal in a press release (see: "Bipartisan Timber Innovation Act Reintroduced in Senate and House"), saying, "U.S. Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), ranking member of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry, today joined Senator Mike Crapo (R-ID) and U.S. Representatives Suzan DelBene (WA-01) and Glenn Thompson (PA-05) to reintroduce the Timber Innovation Act – bipartisan, bicameral legislation that aims to find new and innovative uses for wood as a building material. The legislation will accelerate the research and development of wood for use in construction projects, focusing on the construction of buildings over 85 feet in height."

The National Lumber and Building Material Dealers Association (NLBMDA) immediately came out in support of the idea, as the LBM Journal reported (see: "NLBMDA Supports Bipartisan Timber Innovation Act"). “NLBMDA is thrilled to see strong bipartisan support in Congress to advance the construction of tall wood buildings,” said NLBMDA President and CEO Jonathan Paine.

But concrete and stone industry interests are lobbying against the measure, as World Cement reported (see: "PCA speaks out against ‘Timber Innovation Act’"). “This bill is a blatant attempt by the wood industry to secure a competitive advantage through legislative means,” said PCA Executive Vice President A. Todd Johnston. “Our government should not be in the business of promoting one building material over another.” The National Stone, Sand and Gravel Association (NSSGA) also came out in opposition (see: "NSSGA Opposes Timber Building Bill"). “NSSGA is very disappointed to see members of Congress foregoing marketplace fairness by using federal funding to show preference to one building material over another,” said Patrick Dunne, NSSGA communications director.

We report, you decide.

Housing starts are up, reported USA Today (see: "Housing starts post solid gain in February," by Anne-Marcelle Ngabirano). "Housing starts rose 3% to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 1.288 million, according to the Commerce Department, beating economists' median estimation of 1.265 million. Housing starts are running 7.5 percent higher than they did during the first two months of 2016," the paper reported. "Almost all of the gains were from construction of single-family houses, which rose 6.5% to an annual rate of 872,000. Multifamily starts fell by 3.7% to a pace of 416,000."

Builders are optimistic about their prospects, NAHB reported (see: "Builder Confidence Hits 12-Year High"). But it's not all smooth sailing: “While builders are clearly confident, we expect some moderation in the index moving forward,” said NAHB Chief Economist Robert Dietz. “Builders continue to face a number of challenges, including rising material prices, higher mortgage rates, and shortages of lots and labor."

And any boost to the economy from Federal infrastructure spending won't come soon, if it comes at all, said Association of General Contractors economist Ken Simonson (see YouTube video: "AGC Chief Economist Pessimistic About Infrastructure Funding for 2017," by ForConstructionPros). "I would not be counting on getting a lot more money, or even a dollar more than we expected six months ago for infrastructure, in 2017," said Simonson. "And there's a whole lot more uncertainty around my forecast than there was a few months ago on things like immigration — are we really going to have enough workers? ... What's going to happen on tax policy? Will we still have generous tax deductibility for mortgage interest, for property tax, for municipal bond issues?"

STATE BY STATE

Michigan: A failing sewer connection could force the demolition of a $900,000 home near Detroit, reports the Detroit Free Press (see: "Oakland County: $900,000 home has to go — and owner must pay," by John Wisely). The municipality is suing to demo the home, charging that the builders removed a maintenance manhole without permission when the home was built and claiming that a sinkhole could occur under the home. But the owners have counter-sued, saying the problem is the responsibility of local officials who approved the construction.

Florida: House flipping is still a thing in south Florida, reports the Tampa Bay Times (see: "Flipping houses stays red hot and Tampa Bay remains one of its favorite markets," by Susan Taylor Martin). "Not since the bubble days of 2005-2006 has home flipping been as popular as it is today," the paper reports. "Nationally, flipping hit a 10-year high in 2016, according to a new report from the parent company of RealtyTrac. Among the 117 major metro areas with at least 250 flips, Tampa Bay had the fourth-highest flipping rate. Nearly 10 percent of all bay area homes sold last year were flips."

New York: Four dozen flooded-out houses from Hurricane Sandy are up for public auction in the New York borough of Staten Island, reports the Staten Island Advance (see: "47 properties damaged by Hurricane Sandy to be auctioned," by Tracey Porpora). "Through the NY Rising Acquisition Program, we can offer properties at a fraction of their pre-storm value, enabling prospective purchasers to rehabilitate and elevate these homes, which, in turn, improves the resiliency of the housing stock in the state's most vulnerable communities," said Lisa Bova-Hiatt, executive director of the Governor's Office of Storm Recovery (GOSR).

Utah: They can't build them fast enough, Salt Lake builders are saying. NPR station KUER had this report (see: "Utah Home Builders Struggle To Keep Up With Growth," by Julia Ritchey). Labor scarcity is a factor: "“I know several of my own subcontractors that have left Utah go back to Mexico, and they haven’t come back yet. So we’re paying more for all of our costs," said builder Tyler McArthur. The Deseret News is also on the story (see: "Utah housing shortage headed from bad to worse," by Art Raymond. "Housing inventory has fallen well behind the state's increasing needs, and now tens of thousands of Utahns are searching for homes, condos or townhouses that simply don't exist — and may not be built anytime soon," the paper reported.