Just When Things Were Bad, It Got Much, Much Worse
Property Values and Housing trades will be knocked from their knees to the ground April 22 by EPA. Our nation’s pivotal economic engine, the home building trades, who have already been knocked out of the business of building new homes in this economy, have struggled to eek out some flagging work in renovations. That consolation market now will be decimated by a government initiative to remedy a faulty product that was discontinued for use before many of these builders ever picked up a hammer for hire. The new EPA Lead Rule places all of the burden of compliance and financial consequence for the remediation of the long-prohibited product on the individual building tradesmen. If they fail to obtain the EPA training and also conform their practices to those procedures on all work on pre-1978 homes starting April 22, they will bear fines of $32,500 per day, an amount that is twice the annual salary for many of these folks. In addition to the burdensome training, the required procedures include wrapping the work area and wearing of special suits, like the isolation scene of the ET film. They also must follow prescribed cleaning, disposal of all materials, posting signs, inspecting, testing, as well as paperwork. Why is it that during the worst economic conditions of many of our lifetimes – why is it now that the government must place the burden of ameliorating a long un-used product upon the shoulders of the sector of the economy that is most uniformly hit by the economic crash? Why must these individuals bear this economic responsibility for a product that has been out of use for 32 years? Why now and why on their shoulders? Who knew? A large number of affected trades people have not known of the Rule and its deadlines. The EPA did no wide-spread announcements to reach affected housing professionals. In practicality, the compliance for this Rule is impossible, since there are not even enough trainings to allow full compliance by April 22 for all of the trades affected. You might wonder, how about more trainers? Not possible either, since there is not enough trainer-training to multiply class availability, as local home builder associations have discovered. It is estimated by a local homebuilder group that only about 25% of the affected trades people will be trained in time. The remainder must turn away work on older homes, which for them is the only work that is available in this housing market. What happens to energy efficiency makeovers? What about those government incentives to add insulation and better windows? Those programs were just starting to catch on in the pre-recovery economy, as the contractors adjusted their marketing and tooled up in those areas, and as consumers saw the payback in savings for those renovations. But with these new procedures in the EPA Lead Rule, the savings are gone, as the window job that was $350 now will cost $1,000 due to the burdensome additional labor and materials to address the requirements of the Rule. The EPA has even eliminated the opt-out for homes that do not house pregnant women and children. Thus, elderly who reside in homes they have owned for half a century, and to whom the offending products pose no danger, must also be subject to the expensive prescriptions of the EPA Rule. Those homeowners will skip the needed energy renovations and continue to struggle to pay their high energy bills. Those same houses, with elderly owners, holding the investment of their lifetime, which were already deflated by one-third in the housing bust, now will lose even more value as those homes become un-sellable, due to this Rule. The majority of homes on the market in many areas, are homes older than 1978. Those inventories will deflate in value very quickly after April 22, as new buyers avoid the exorbitant costs of any repairs on those homes. The nation’s flagging economy that teeters on the value of homes, their sale, and the robustness of the housing market, will languish with this Rule in place. It has grave consequences for the entire economy. What can be done? All Senators and Congress people should write to the Office of Management and Budget to delay the EPA Lead Rule, to study its consequences, and amend it before instituting it. They should petition the White House to do the same. Get them to do that. The bodies of Congress and Senate can also vote to suspend the rule altogether, in order for proper revisions to occur. Those revisions must include making training available, publicizing the requirements and deadlines to all affected trades, allowing opt-out for homes without children and pregnant women, and financial offset for the costs involved in ameliorating a toxic product that was discontinued in the trades 32 years ago.
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