Master Builders Association Leads the Way in Community Building

Anyone who knows me also knows that I’ve been in a lot of arguments and been called many names (I call them sobriquets) because I support and represent developers, builders, and landlords. What bothers me isn’t the name calling (I’m used to it) and the negative energy directed at me (I expect it) but that the negativity exists at all. I know many, many builders in Seattle. Usually, builders are ordinary people just like anyone you’d see standing in line at a coffee shop, with peculiarities and biases and hobbies and family and a job. In the case of people who build housing, that job is usually running their own businesses. Last Thursday just before the snow hit, I attended the 2016 annual gala and officer installation of the Master Builders Association. It was a great event, and incoming President Mike Walsh, owner of Terrene Homes, acknowledged the public perception of builders in his speech.

The first of these [challenges] is our industry image. Most of you know that my company develops land and builds homes. I love my job and believe that what we do makes a difference in people’s lives, but when I attend neighborhood meetings or council meetings or when I listen to the media talking about land development, I hear them portraying builders and developers as though we’re “Rapers and Pillagers.” We provide housing for families, how could that be thought of in any way negative? But somehow the general public sees us as the bad guys.

This is something I’ve been working to reverse for a long time. Why this resentment toward people who build housing” Well, housing is perhaps the biggest single cost people pay each month. And moving and relocating is always a hassle. And there are many people who are struggling to make ends meet, and often those families end up losing their home or facing other housing issues. Then there are all the cranes, and trucks, and noise, and dust, and change that come with growth.

All of these things swirl together and make people who build housing — often the people making the noise and dust — look like the problem. And, imagine this, they make money building housing. I’ve pointed out to people in discussions that what they have at the end of the month after paying bills and covering expenses could hardly be called “profit.” But people angry about change and growth somehow see the benefits from investment or even plain old risk, as ill gotten gains. It is a problem I think that will take lots of time and education to reverse.

But doing things in the community using the unique skills builders have is one really positive way to push back. Since 1993 the Master Builders Association (MBA) has been leading the Rampathon program (the MBA is a major funder of Smart Growth Seattle). From the MBA website:

Rampathon is an annual program of the Master Builders Association where members and volunteers build free wheelchair-access ramps for low-income homeowners throughout King and Snohomish counties. Since its inception in 1993, members and volunteers have built more than 370 ramps contributing to more than 1.7 million dollars of in-kind contributions to our community .

If you watch the video I’ve lead off with, you can see the real benefits builders can bring to bear on real problems. Along with creating better access to their own homes for people, the program provides an educational benefit with a partnership with Sawhorse Revolution. As I’ve said before, imagine if instead of coming after builders with taxes, fees, penalties, rules, and regulations local city governments said, “Hey, can you help us build some housing for people in need?” My guess is, like local hero Mike Huber who received a service award at the event, the answer would be an enthusiastic, “Yes!”

Until programs like Rampathon sink into the popular consciousness, Walsh said clearly we need to advocate for ourselves too.

We must ADVOCATE on behalf of our industry. It’s not enough to complain about bad regulation or politicians after the fact; we need to be in the conversation from the beginning! We need to be the authority on these issues. We need to make our presence felt in all the jurisdictions where we work, to make sure our voice is heard when it comes to new regulations or elected officials. That’s why I ask you to get involved in ADVOCACY.

Very true. And that’s why there is an MBA and a Smart Growth Seattle. The event was inspiring and a great reminder of why we all do what we do, whether it is build housing or mix it up in debates and policy discussions.

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