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
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
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
"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. …