Feds: Housing Construction An Essential Business

The Department of Homeland Security deemed the homebuilders “essential critical infrastructure workers” in a sweeping document designed to provide guidance to states navigating the coronavirus pandemic.

In a letter issued over the weekend, the DHS Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) classified the following home construction workers as essential:

  • Workers performing housing construction related activities to ensure additional units can be made available to combat the nation’s existing housing supply shortage.
  • Workers supporting the construction of housing, including those supporting government functions related to the building and development process, such as inspections, permitting and plan review services that can be modified to protect the public health, but fundamentally should continue and serve the construction of housing (e.g., allow qualified private third-party inspections in case of government shutdown). 

“This list is advisory in nature,” CISA Director Christopher C. Kreb said. “It is not, nor should it be considered, a federal directive or standard. Additionally, this advisory list is not intended to be the exclusive list of critical infrastructure sectors, workers, and functions that should continue during the COVID-19 response across all jurisdictions. Individual jurisdictions should add or subtract essential workforce categories based on their own requirements and discretion.”

State Decisions

Different states have brought a different approach to real estate and construction – and the DHS guidelines are designed solely to guide states in their decision making.

Pennsylvania imposed a strict ban on all business activities that are not deemed “life-sustaining,” including construction in all forms. New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy’s “stay-at-home” order excludes construction workers. Seven California counties exclude some construction from mandated business closures, deeming building an “essential” business operation. 

The National Association of Home Builders applauded the DHS guidelines. Last week, NAHB was among 90 organizations that called on DHS to designate housing construction as an essential infrastructure business.

“Americans depend on a functioning residential construction sector to provide safe, affordable housing for our citizens, and this need is especially acute during this pandemic,” said NAHB Chairman Dean Mon said. “Moreover, a healthy housing market is critical to maintain a sound economy. I commend DHS for heeding the urgent concerns of the housing community and taking this decisive action to assure the men and women of the industry will be able to stay on the job and serve the needs of the American people at this critical time.”

See the full list of essential workers here.