Seven months after devastating floods destroyed or damaged tens of thousands of homes in metro Baton Rouge, contractors and suppliers say the snail's pace of rebuilding is finally getting a bit better.
“It’s becoming manageable,” said John Holmes, owner of Holmes Building Materials, which has three hardware stores and a door manufacturing facility in Baton Rouge and Denham Springs. “It wasn’t that way a few months ago, but it got a little better in December and it’s been gradually getting better each month.”
The amount of time it takes to receive and install customized, labor-intensive items such as cabinets, granite counter tops and doors has doubled. It now typically takes eight weeks to get cabinets, two or three weeks for interior doors. “But two months ago, if you ordered doors, they were two months out,” Holmes said.
The sheer volume of orders that were being placed in the weeks and months right after the storm led to the delays.
Dwayne Gafford, president of the Capital Region Builders Association, said there were an estimated 130,000 homes that were damaged by the flood. “If you figure an average of 10 doors per house, that means you need about 1.3 million doors,” he said. That’s far more than the 300,000 to 400,000 doors that are manufactured locally each year. “Plus, new construction is still booming, so all that gets piled together,” Gafford said.
But things have gotten better as some of the easiest rebuilding jobs have wrapped up and builders tapped new vendors to get the items they needed.
Carol Smith, chairwoman of the Capital Region Builders Association, said some local builders found a cabinetmaker in Beaumont, Texas, to supply the market. It worked out well for all parties because the market for cabinets in Beaumont had slowed down. “The builders were very pleased with the quality of work,” she said.
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Smith said while doors are easy to find at local big-box stores, those in the stores are “rough-sawn” and not smoothed or sanded. They’re all 6 feet, 8 inches tall, instead of the popular 8-foot height. “That’s not the style my homeowners want,” she said.
Finding workers to handle all of the rebuilding jobs is still an issue. There was an influx of laborers who came in from outside the market, but some of them have left town. “I talked to a guy yesterday who just hired a contractor last week,” Gafford said.
And many local construction workers were affected by the flooding. Holmes said one-third of the 155 people who work at his lumberyards had their homes damaged by the storm. "We've got 12 to 15 people who are still not back in their houses," he said. "They're working on their own house at night and over the weekend."
The shortage of workers is slowing the pace of recovery. Holmes estimates it will take two to four years for all of the rebuilding to be completed. “It’s going to be a long, drawn-out thing,” he said, but it is in line with the recovery from other disasters.
Gafford said he’s concerned about the drawn-out nature of the recovery. “I see depression setting in a lot of people,” he said.
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