As reported in today’s Washington Post, former HUD Secretary Henry Cisneros says that the biggest problem in housing today isn’t toxic loans, rampant foreclosures, or plummeting prices and sales—it’s the quality of construction.
"The quality issue has been a serious problem in the home-building industry in the mid- and low price range for a long time," Cisneros says. "It was exacerbated in the boom because we outstretched the capabilities of the workforce." The issue isn’t just a concern for homeowners, he says. "When construction is poor and there are obvious signs of deterioration after 30 years or less," he says, “it impacts an entire neighborhood and an entire community. We are going to be building so much in the future, and we need to get it right."
What Cisneros doesn’t mention is that poor construction can affect not just families and communities, it also can have a terrible impact on the environment. Shoddy framing, substandard craftsmanship, and bad materials lead to tremendous wastes in energy and resources, especially when the house falls apart and requires premature renovation or demolition. And below-par construction also can lead to poor air quality, creating serious health risks.
The solution, suggests Cisneros, is to develop national standards for construction quality, and he calls upon the entire industry, particularly the National Association of Home Builders, to spearhead this effort. Builders’ economic woes, he insists, should be a motivator, not a deterrent: "The current slowdown in the housing industry presents a great opportunity to address these issues and avoid the mistakes of the past."