Home construction workers deemed non-essential amid COVID-19, leaving families scrambling for housing

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SEATTLE -- Washington’s Stay Home, Stay Health order is taking a toll on the home construction industry. Some families may be homeless very soon because the people building homes are deemed non-essential by the state. Several home construction projects across Washington are currently at a standstill.

“Nobody’s working around here,” said Steve Scott, a general contractor.

Scott and several other construction workers can’t finish projects since the state deemed their work non-essential in the COVID-19 pandemic. Scott and his team were in the middle of building an in-law suite at a home in the Seattle area.

“We’re on the cusp of being able to do all kinds of things,” said Scott.

While their project is on hold, Scott said he’s trying to support his crew members as much as he can, so they don’t leave to another state to find work.

“I need to keep those guys available for when this starts up again. So, I need to provide them anything they need to be able to get to the end of this crisis because I can’t do this by myself,” said Scott.

The Vann family was set to close on their new house on April 29th. The home is nearly finished.

“We’ve been told that the only thing left are faucets, electrical plate covers, I believe the hot water heater needs to go in, mirrors and carpet. So not anything big,” said Thomas Vann.

However, since crews can’t complete the inside until the state order is lifted, the family may not be able to move in until late June.

“Very stressed. Buying a home is one of the most stressful things you can do anyway. And this pandemic on top of it and not being able to close on the home that we purchased it’s a nightmare,” said Thomas and Carolyn Vann.

The family of four already sold their old house and has everything in storage. Now they’re in between the in-law’s house and Airbnb for the next two months.

“An Airbnb just for 28 days was $4,300 and that was them cutting us a really, really good deal,” said Carolyn.

“We’re stuck in limbo trying to figure out how to keep the kids entertained when we have none of their toys. Where are we going to stay and how to not completely burn the bridge with my in-laws. It’s a stressful time,” said Thomas.

Governor Jay Inslee’s office said there is no timeline when non-essential construction will restart. The office just began round-table discussions with contractors and workers for clarity on safety and health expectations. Part of a statement from the office said:

“Ultimately, our goal is to prepare an appropriate return-to-work strategy for the rest of the industry. That strategy will be informed by workers, contractors, health and safety experts, and local government, for how construction can safely resume.”

A representative from the governor’s office said the work group would meet twice per week.

While the Vann’s hope the governor’s decision comes soon, Scott said his team is standing by.

“This project is just not moving forward until that time,” said Scott.

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