A letter to GOHBA members: Responding to the COVID-19 crisis

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Special to Ottawa Construction News

Roy Nandram, president of the Greater Ottawa Home Builders’ Association (GOHBA) and president and project manager at residential and commercial contractor RND Construction, distributed this letter to GOHBA members in April.

When I assumed the (GOHBA) presidency 13 months ago, I would never have anticipated that the world, our country, our industry, and our businesses would be crippled by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Over the last few weeks, I have been glued to the news channels and social media, following the developments around the world and here at home. The latest info from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s chief public health officer, is that the virus will be around for another 6 to 18 months, perhaps in smaller and smaller waves, until a vaccine is developed.

So we likely still have a long road to go, but we will make that journey together. And that starts with your membership in the Association. It’s times like these, the difficult times, where the value of the Association is most apparent.

Here at home GOHBA has been working with city staff to ensure that planning, permits and inspections stay open and available, while other cities and towns in Ontario have seen their building departments shut down. City staff have been responsive to our needs and should be recognized for doing all they are doing to accommodate our building process on all fronts – especially our CBO (Chief Building Official) Frank Bidin and his team.

OHBA (Ontario Home Builders’ Association)  has been working around the clock with the Premier’s office, the Minister’s office, and many more to ensure that our industry remains open. ICI have not had the success we have. And, thanks to the efforts of OHBA staff, the provincial governments continues to modify things in response to builder’s concerns and find reasonable solutions to carry on as much of our business as possible.

CHBA (Canadian Home Builders’ Association) has also been working diligently at the federal level to ensure that the wage supplement programs are more aligned with the realities of how the residential construction industry operates. And the federal government is likely to take a large role as we ease out of dealing exclusively with the pandemic and think about economic recovery.

We don’t think about it often but an average of 500 to 600 families a month move into a new home in Ottawa. In addition, there are thousands of renovation projects across the city in various states of completion. All of these renovations improve and/or expand the livable space of someone’s home. So there are a lot of people across the city who are relying on GOHBA members to deliver the housing they will use to shelter their families during this difficult time.

So with that said we should start now to prepare our businesses for survival during this crisis and after the crisis. As I said before, we’re in this together. Please be respectful of your colleagues and their situation. Some have had to make the hard choice to shut down but expect to be back up running soon– please don’t obstruct their business planning by soliciting their employees at this vulnerable time.  Let’s treat each other with professional respect and courtesy.

At the same time, it’s important to do all you can for your laid off employees, as they are in a very difficult situation as well. This is what my company is doing for laid off employees – we are paying their benefits until they are recalled and we are also offering loans of up to $2,000 per employee to supplement their EI payments. This will be reviewed again at the end of June. I am encouraging you to do the same if you can afford it. I’d also encourage you to communicate with your laid off employees on a regular basis on your latest plans and intentions. Make sure they understand that you see them as an essential part of business moving forward.

We’ve also been asked to provide lists of members that are still in operation, but have not for a few reasons. Based on this rapidly changing situation, it would be difficult to produce an accurate list. We are also sensitive to advertising only members that remain open. So instead I encourage you to use the membership directory if you need to make new contacts for your construction needs. Be a Member, Do Business with a Member is more vital than ever during these challenging times.

I believe that Quebec partially reopening its residential construction industry is a good sign for us here in Ontario. It gives credence to our provincial government’s stance that the residential construction industry is an essential workplace that needs to continue to operate with the proper safety protocols. With that in mind let’s make sure that we continue to keep our jobsites safe for everyone, not just because it’ll help keep our businesses operating but because it’s the right thing to do. And let’s support each other publicly and on social media for the good job they are doing.

OHBA has also been hosting weekly calls for members to talk about what’s happening at the provincial level I also know that OHBA is also working with the provincial government on the steps needed to kick start our economic recovery. The government knows that we spend more on renovations than on new homes, so I am confident that renovators  will be a focus of not only the provincial government, but of the federal government as well – energy efficient renovations, for example, have always been a very successful part of past stimulus packages.

GOHBA is committed to providing you with more information and resources during this time to ensure you’re ready to kick things back up when the time comes. So in addition to the webinars we’ve had and the ones that are planned, I encourage you to continue to communicate with us, send in your requests and questions, and please reach out if you require assistance in operating while we’re under these restrictions. The Association has been sending out frequent updates on all things COVID-19-related. We want to send these to as many people in your company as possible, so please provide us with your contacts to ensure your employees & co-workers are staying in the loop.

As you likely know we’ve had to cancel all our events through the Summer, but we do hope to hold our Fall Golf Tournament on Sept. 10 and hold a rescheduled Innovation Trade Show on October 1.Shortly we’ll be launching submissions for the Housing Design Awards, and I hope it’ll be a very important show that will signal that the industry is prospering. I encourage you to get your submissions in so that you can use being a finalist or a winner in your advertising.

So to wrap up I want to thank the GOHBA staff for all of their efforts during this difficult time, as well as all of the volunteers whose contributions improve our industry and our businesses.

Roy Nandram

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