By Joshua Burd, Real Estate NJ

There was no shortage of questions among New Jersey homebuilders when Gov. Phil Murphy announced last week that he was halting all non-essential construction activity in the state.

Chief among them: What would happen to sites where closings were already scheduled and residents were preparing to leave their old homes behind? It was the top concern for the New Jersey Builders Association, but the organization was able to breathe a sigh of relief when Murphy’s directive carved out an exemption for such projects.

“It would be very disruptive to the entire industry if you stopped that and didn’t allow it to move forward,” said Carol Ann Short, the association’s CEO. “And what we’re talking about is protecting the safety and lives of people. And allowing them to move … and know that they’ll be safe and in their home, we thought was a very good and balanced decision on his part.”

To be sure, it was a common theme for Short after she and the association took stock of Murphy’s executive order, which ended all non-essential construction as of 8 p.m. last Friday. The NJBA expressed full support for the governor’s latest step toward slowing the spread of COVID-19, even if it meant new limitations for residential and commercial builders whose projects had been exempted under directives.

Key to that support was what Short said was a measured, evenhanded approach by a governor who is looking out for 9 million residents.

“We respect his balanced approach to this, his thoughtful approach,” Short said. “Kudos to him and his team on all of the effort and everything they’re doing on behalf of the residents of New Jersey. And we respect that life safety and protecting residents is his priority, and if there needs to be these restrictions in order to save a life, I don’t think there’s anybody in our membership that would challenge that in any way.”

Executive Order 122, which Murphy signed on April 8, outlined a host of project types that would be allowed to continue as essential construction, such as those related to hospitals and health care, transportation and utilities, schools, social services and law enforcement and first responders. Other exemptions included several related directly to homebuilding and commercial construction, such as:

  • Residential projects including those that are exclusively designated as affordable housing
  • Projects already underway involving individual single-family homes, or an individual apartment unit where an individual already resides, with a construction crew of five or fewer individuals
  • Projects already underway involving a residential unit for which a tenant or buyer has already entered into a legally binding agreement to occupy the unit by a certain date, and construction is necessary to ensure the unit’s availability by that date.

The order also allowed work to continue on non-essential construction projects in cases where a builder needs to physically secure a site in the interest of structural integrity, abating hazards, remediation and other safety issues. Short said the provision was also critical for NJBA members, allowing them to protect against damage from the elements, vandalism and other dangers that could harm the investment by both buyers and builders.

“The directive is very clear,” she said. “And our members are 100 percent supportive of those guidelines and that directive and will do whatever they need to do in order to make that work on their projects that will move forward if they’re determined to be essential construction projects.”

Short and her members know the crisis will eventually come to an end. They may not know when, she said, but the homebuilding industry will be ready to help restart the economy, as it always has in the aftermath of a downturn.

“We want to be a resource for the administration, for the Legislature and for all those who need help with that. And the NJBA and the members of this association are ready and willing participants to kick-start the economy when it’s time to do so and when it’s time for everyone to go full throttle and back to work 100 percent.

“It has been proven, historically, this is an industry that brings us out of every downturn … and this industry can put people back to work very quickly.”

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