White House Meets Builders, Unions on Home Shortage

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The White House held a meeting with representatives from across the homebuilding industry on Friday as President Joe Biden seeks to address a housing supply shortage that’s spurring a record increase in home prices.

Top Biden administration officials sat down with representatives from across the supply chain, including builders, housing advocates, lumber companies, real estate firms, loggers and labor unions, the White House said in a statement. Builders cite high materials prices, scarce supplies and a dearth of skilled workers as ongoing challenges in the race to complete new homes.

Low mortgage rates and demand for properties in the suburbs spurred by remote work because of the coronavirus pandemic have fueled the U.S. housing market for more than a year. A lack of homes for purchase helped to push prices higher, with the S&P CoreLogic Case-Shiller index climbing more than 14% from a year earlier in April, the most in data going back to 1988.

Biden announced the establishment of the Supply Chain Disruptions Task Force last month to address near-term supply challenges to the economic recovery in four areas: homebuilding and construction; semiconductors; transportation; and agriculture and food. Friday’s meeting mirrors forums that Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo has been leading to meet with business leaders to address the computer chip shortage.

White House Meets Builders, Unions on Home Shortage

“The first step is to really get everybody around the table and find out what’s happening, where is the system broken, and what can industry do better and differently,” Raimondo, who was the lead cabinet member at the Friday gathering, said in an interview beforehand. “Some issues relate to logistics, so if there’s anything that the government can do to help with ports and other modes of transportation, we want to know about that.”

Friday’s meeting included Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Marcia Fudge, National Economic Council Director Brian Deese and Council of Economic Advisers Chairwoman Cecilia Rouse, the White House said. Bloomberg News first reported the meeting was planned.

Participants helped administration leaders collect additional input to inform the their near- and medium-term efforts to further strengthen housing supply, the White House said. They focused on the demand for housing and how Biden’s "Build Back Better" agenda will expand housing supply and strengthen affordable housing stock.

Biden’s $2.2 trillion infrastructure-focused American Jobs Plan unveiled in March calls for producing, preserving and retrofitting more than 2 million affordable and sustainable homes, including more than 500,000 new and rehabilitated homes for low- and moderate-income homebuyers and homeowners.

Demand for new homes sent lumber prices surging to a record in May, although prices have given back most of that gain in the past two months.

Data on existing home sales, due next week, are forecast to show purchases rose only slightly in June from the prior month, remaining well below the faster pace from late 2020 and early this year, amid the tight supply and rising prices.

“Right now in America, it is harder to find an affordable home than at any point since the Great Recession,” Fudge said in a separate statement. “As prices climb, HUD -- and the people we serve -- depend on the work of the housing industry to supply affordable homes where families have access to jobs, education, and opportunity.”

Raimondo said the U.S. is looking to see whether it’s possible to reach an agreement with Canada to resolve their softwood lumber dispute, an issue that dates back to the early 1980s and where she said U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai is the lead negotiator. The Commerce Department in May issued new preliminary rulings on anti-dumping tariffs that if implemented would double the duties applied to imports from America’s northern neighbor.

The chairman of the National Association of Home Builders at the time accused the White House of being “disingenuous” for saying that housing affordability was a top priority at the same time that Commerce proposed the higher duties, calling lumber tariffs a tax on American home buyers that will further increase home costs.

“This is a long-standing dispute and it wasn’t created overnight,” Raimondo said of the lumber spat with Canada. “I doubt it will be fixed overnight.”

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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