How houses are homes, even in a disaster area

How houses are homes, even in a disaster area

By Dr. Elliott Eisenberg, Senior Economist, NAHB

Recently I was to give a talk about the economic impact of home building in Joplin, MO. However, a few hours before I landed a devastating tornado destroyed 2,000 buildings and heavily damaged one-third of the city including the hospital, high school and many neighborhoods. In all, over 120 persons were killed. After a harrowing flight from Chicago filled with turbulence, lightning and the darkest clouds this east coast economist has ever seen it was great to land. I was, however, so shaken from the flight and from what I saw I was unable to articulate a cogent thought and putting one foot in front of the other was about all I could do.

Interestingly, this was my second recent frightening run-in with Mother Nature. About 10 weeks ago I was on the Oregon coast having given a talk at an HBA there. At 5:30 the next morning I was woken by the hotel manager and informed that there was a tsunami warning and that I might wish to evacuate; needless to say, I did. Luckily that warning was unnecessary. In Japan, however, it was a very different story.

To me the most poignant part of natural disasters is hearing survivors talk gallantly about rebuilding their destroyed homes and neighborhoods. No one cries about a car, boat, iPhone or credenza that was destroyed; they are all easily replaced. Yet, people regularly weep when surveying the wreckage of their destroyed home. This is because homes are repositories of memory and because homes speak to the importance of place. And our place and our memories intimately revolve around our homes. Thus, the profound desire to rebuild even though moving away is so much easier.

Joplin has suffered immense physical and psychological damage. It is now our turn, the turn of the home builders, to help make these communities whole and give them back part of what was brutally taken from them. In my speeches as an economist I regularly point out the number of jobs created and the amount of tax revenue generated by home building. But, to be honest, that misses the bigger point. What rebuilding homes in Joplin and New Orleans and Memphis does is offer people and communities hope about the future, comfort that they are part of it, and validation of their lives.

The next time I give a speech I will make these points, I will share this story and I will be more proud to be part of this great industry than I have ever been.

Editor’s Note: Elliot Eisenberg, Ph.D. is an economist with the NAHB and looks forward to hearing from you. He has spoken to the HBA of Greenville twice in recent years and delivered good news about the impact of housing on our local economy. He can be reached at 202.266.8398 or by email at eeisenberg@nahb.org.

Dr. Eisenberg was set to speak on Monday to HBA members in Joplin, MO. He was intercepted by the Executive Director of the Springfield, MO, HBA before he finished his trip and arrived in the disaster zone. His is a story about how HBA members and staff come together to help one another.

The HBA office in Joplin is undamaged and will reopen May 24. However, two of 14 HBA board members in Joplin are homeless.

You can help by contributing to NAHB’s Disaster Relief Fund.