Everhouse: A New Plan for Post-Katrina Homes

Article excerpt

John Sawyer's vision for the next phase of Katrina recovery revolves around a simple home.

Three years after hurricanes Katrina and Rita battered the Gulf Coast, housing remains a major problem in the region. There's a shortage of skilled labor to build new homes, insurance rates have skyrocketed, and most federal aid for temporary housing expired this year.

Mr. Sawyer's response: the Everhouse, a single-family home built from concrete wall panels that are wind-, fire-, mold-, and pest- resistant. About $68 per square foot, the Everhouse is about half the cost of affordable housing in some Gulf Coast cities.

Sawyer is a Boston-based builder who's used to working on golf- course communities and retirement homes. But when he and his partner, Harold McKenna, visited the Gulf Coast area after the storms, they started brainstorming a housing solution that could improve on the recent "Katrina cottages."

Step 1: Who will build them?

"We readily saw that there is an acute shortage of skilled construction labor in the area," says Sawyer. "And when you consider the scope of the problem - 700,000 homes damaged [by the hurricanes] and 250,000 homes destroyed - you realize that you're going to have to create your own labor force if you're going to be at all successful."

But there's a two-prong problem. Without many local skilled workers, they'd need to both find new people and then train them. So, the duo teamed up with the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners (UBC), an organization of 500,000 tradespeople and one of the biggest publishers of how-to training manuals.

The carpentry union runs 250 national training centers, says Dan Maples, the brotherhood's vice president of the Southern District, including one center in Moss Point, Miss., near where Sawyer and Mr. McKenna want to build the first 1,500 Everhouses. There, the trainers will sign up and educate whomever in the area is ready to work. Sawyer's team will pay the new recruits union wages and the workers have the opportunity to buy and live in the houses once they're done.

"We hope to create a crew that will become skilled at all the trades necessary for completion of the house," says Mr. Maples. "Then they can use those skills to build other homes and go on to become a viable workforce for home building and commercial structures in the Gulf Coast area."

Step 2: How to build?

With deals in place to train a new workforce, Sawyer moved on to planning a timetable for construction.

He wanted to emulate the Scandinavian factory-crafted model, where a united group tackles the whole project instead of the subcontractor method typical in American construction, where individual tasks are outsourced to several distinct groups. …