Government, professional, non-profit and trade association assistance
There are a variety of organizations that are stepping up to assist those who have been affected by the Marshall wildfire.
- Government: Local, state, and federal authorities immediately emerge to create as much calm and direction as possible in the aftermath of a tragedy. Government officials collaborate with one another providing direction, information, insight and positive momentum.
Each jurisdiction has a level of expertise to share based on its level of preparedness, knowledge and experience. Officials begin to create a plan of action to restore utilities, create plans for debris removal and the eventual recovery and rebuilding of the area. The collaboration is remarkable. People work together to help the affected and traumatized community.
It is essential for government leadership to begin working with trusted local construction professionals. They must establish realistic timelines and critical path charts regarding construction, while working to complete these in cooperation with the respective governmental jurisdictions.
- Professionals: Local professionals can begin working with planning and/or building department officials to assess the damage and determine how to help local and state officials address the restoration of the community. Most planning and building departments are not prepared to handle the questions and answers immediately. It takes time to effectuate a credible plan of action that will meet the needs of the community. Fortunately, local construction professionals can provide more accurate recommendations for remediation and restoration.
Today, more than any time in the past 50 years, the industry is amid a national and international building boom that has created supply chain disruption, labor shortages, lack of qualified construction workers, architects, landscape architects, engineers and home builders.
- Non-Profit Organizations: There are a plethora of non-profits from the American Red Cross to local ecumenical groups to foundations that have come together to help those in need today and always.
The Latin phrase, e pluribus unum, which means “out of many, one” shows that be working together for a common good for everyone, we can all accomplish more together.
- Trade Associations: It is helpful to have construction industry trade association personnel as facilitators to bring reality through guidance, mentorship and community leadership in cooperation with governmental, professional and non-profit organization representatives.
Typically, local and state home builder associations have been established within the community for more than 75 years in major markets and as many as 50 years in smaller trading areas. They work diligently to create better lifestyle environments through their members in cooperation with the groups previously noted.
Several excellent examples are the Home Builders Association of Colorado Springs, Home Builders Association of Grand County, Home Builders Association of Metro Denver and the Colorado Association of Home Builders. These associations have brought together their experiences in cooperation with officials from their related federation partner, the National Association of Home Builders.
By exchanging best practices together, they have been an asset to the Home Builders Association of Metro Denver Marshall Wildfire Disaster Relief Task Force helping 1,084 “Fire Families.” These families completely lost their homes and possessions in addition to countless others who will have to rebuild or remodel their residences and businesses because of smoke damage.
The task force, hard at work
The Marshall wildfire task force began working within hours of the fire devastation to create a website for information, a resource home page and a builder working group. This working group had to establish an outreach program in concert with the three jurisdictions affected by the wildfire devastation in Boulder County, Louisville and Superior, along with the state and federal governments. The working group began counseling interested members on how to help the jurisdictions and the affected families and businesses with ongoing information, resources and counseling services.
The task force began using the assistance of other related home builder associations in Colorado Springs, Grand County, California and the National Association of Home Builders. The information gathered and integrated into a working action plan was actualized in weeks rather than months.
The National Association of Home Builders Disaster Relief Department and related field specialists have been working at every governmental level to help as resources and guides through previously unchartered territories.
The Home Builders Association task force also met with Californian non-profit group, After the Fire, that had been created four years ago after a series of tragic wildfires. This group helps communities throughout the western U.S. that have experienced the intensity and destructive power of wildfires bring back the community through restoration of mind, body, soul and reconstruction.
Pamela Van Halsema, the director of community and digital programs for After the Fire, along with two other “fire families” volunteers, Jeff Okrepkie and Brad Sherwood, shared their collective wisdom through personal experiences with additional contributions by the author of this article, who also co-chairs the HBA of Metro Denver’s wildfire task force. Their mitigation strategy is as follows:
- Educate new and current buyers to evaluate their home and personal insurance every year.
- Protect all parties with the engagement of lawyers to ensure they understand the agreement(s) with which they are executing regarding construction.
- Set expectations at the beginning of a working relationship. Never take a relationship for granted. Understand and maintain the rules of engagement and the protocols to follow for all concerned parties. When a concern arises, mitigate the concern. Keep the “Fire Families” happy.
- In a continued appreciating and inflationary real estate market, insurance coverage needs to be evaluated yearly to ensure proper insurance coverage. From their experience, most homes are underinsured. Presently, many of the Marshall wildfires’ “Fire Families” are underinsured in the amounts of $100,000 to an excess of $500,000. Even with the personal insurance coverage these families do not have sufficient insurance payments to rebuild their homes. They will need additional savings or liquid assets to rebuild their homes and lives.
- Receive ongoing counseling to maintain an optimistic and hopeful disposition. In the past, when other families have experienced these devastating events, with proper counseling and professional advice, they have been able to enjoy a new lifestyle and an updated home or business.
- Create a homebuyer buying group to build with the same accredited home builder. This concept can afford the buyers lesser expensive deposits, similar legally vetted agreements to protect all parties, improved cost savings and timely construction completion.
- Create a co-op buying group through the HBA of Metro Denver the National Association of Home Builders to help disaster devastated families and businesses with a centralized discount and rebate program.
- Set expectations with builder and jurisdiction officials regarding debris removal, permit fees, permit approvals, and construction inspections. Meet at least monthly with the builder and government officials to review the state of all parties collaborating to ensure satisfaction.
- Establish and maintain rules and regulations within each neighborhood for each builder to respect one another and the “Fire Families.” Ensure that there is always a right of way for passage and delivery.
- Create counseling and education monthly meetings including topics about insurance, finance, legal, supply, labor, real estate, homeowner associations, metropolitan districts and builder protocols.
- Remember all the “Fire Families” are on an emotional roller coaster. These families do not understand the current constraints of the construction industry delays due to supply chain disruption and labor shortages. Maintain meetings with a diplomatic and caring builder representative with the families. When a problem arises, handle it immediately with kindness and consideration.
- Ensure contractually that the selected builders rebuild the “Fire Families” homes first prior to building speculative homes.
- Set expectations for all payments to be made to the builder. The best advice is to have a third-party escrow agent or title insurance agent escrow all the funds for the construction of each home. In addition, have a third-party building inspector representing the escrow party ensure that the work is completed for the items that need to receive payment and authorize the payment upon the satisfactory inspection. This recommendation keeps everyone honest and on point to complete the project in a timely and cost-effective manner.
- Educate the “Fire Families” to determine the builder and the architecture plans as soon as possible. Once completing the plans, begin the bidding process. Upon completing the bidding process, purchase the building materials and warehouse them until they are needed. This ensures that you have the materials at a lesser cost and have them available for the construction team to ensure a faster build, completed home and earlier move-in.
- There are many bad actors posing as debris removal companies, tradesmen, financiers, insurance adjusters, and builders. Vet each builder and their cadre. Ensure that the builder is financially capable of building each home. Interview the last five homebuying customers and seek audited financial statements from the builders or letters of endorsement and testimony to their excellence from executive bankers. Seek inspection reports about the builders from the jurisdictions in which they build to determine their reputation as well. Review the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration inspection reports to determine their credibility.
- Beware of labor contractor poaching by other builders. Ensure that the builder of record only allows its cadre on the homesite.
- Many families may not have the desire to build a new home. Another solution is to sell their homesite upon complete and certified debris removal with all utilities intact. They might then buy a speculatively built home or resale home in their area.
- Continue meeting to ensure customer, government and builder satisfaction.
The happy ending to our story
By working with experienced government representatives, professionals, non-profit organizations and trade associations in a collaborative and meaningful manner, once devastated “Fire Families” and businesses can enjoy renewed lives and commercial enterprises in better environments with appreciative families, friends, and business associates all realizing their restored and rejuvenated neighborhood and community.
Marshall Wildfires Disaster Relief Resources
Federal Emergency Management Agency
FEMA.gov | 800.621.3362
Fire Management Assistance Grants
Post Hazard Mitigation Grant Programs
County of Boulder Building Safety and Inspections
303.499.3675 X 139
City of Louisville
Lisa Richie | 303.335.4596
Town of Superior
Chief Building Official
Neal Shah | 303.499.3675
Home Builders Association of Metro Denver Marshall Wildfires Disaster Relief Task Force
Boulder Creek Neighborhoods