Barry Rutenberg, who last month began his year-long term as the NAHB’s chairman, is president of Gainesville, Fla.–based Barry Rutenberg & Associates, an independent franchisee of the home builder Arthur Rutenberg Homes. A graduate of Northwestern University with an MBA from Harvard University, Rutenberg was inducted into Florida’s Housing Hall of Fame in 2007. He has been a member of the NAHB’s board since 1980. His civic and philanthropic activities include serving the board of the Conservation Trust for Florida, and on the Issues Advisory Board of Florida Defenders of the Environment.
Q. Over the past two decades, you have been remarkably active in state and national association affairs. Where did you find the time and still run your business?
A. I have learned a great deal about multitasking and found that when you really enjoy what you’re doing, you can always find time to carry out your responsibilities. There is an expression that you get back more than you put in. I have found that to be true with our local, state, and national association. For me, it has been knowledge and friends. The knowledge I have gained has proved to be very beneficial to our customers and our company. And as a bonus I have had an opportunity to make so many friends from all over the U.S.
In 1976, I opened Barry Rutenberg and Associates. My daughter, Lisa Kinsell, is the vice president of the company, and my son-in-law, Dale Kinsell, is the building company president. It’s great to know that I can rely on Lisa and Dale and the rest of our great team when there are extreme demands on my time.
Q. The Rutenberg name is practically dynastic in Florida. Your 84-year-old father, Arthur, has been building homes since 1953. He told theTampa Bay Timesin September that the current housing recession is the worst cycle he’s been through. But he also said, “The lesson [builders] usually learn from something like this is, nobody learns.” What, in your opinion, should builders be taking away from what their industry has gone through the past five years?
A. Home building has always been cyclical, so most members of the industry already had experience weathering ups and downs in the market. However, the most recent crisis was far more extreme than anyone could have anticipated. From my personal point of view, I would say that every builder—from the smallest to the largest—should always have a strategic plan that acknowledges the possibility of extreme swings in the market. Having a plan in place and knowing in advance exactly what steps you should take make it much easier to act quickly and decisively if it becomes necessary.
My dad also said in that interview that when you hear that someone just bought three condos, you might suspect the markets are a little bit askew. I think there’s a lot of truth in that. Over the long term, homeownership is a valuable and important investment for most families. But first and foremost, homeownership should be about providing your family with a home—a base for building a better tomorrow.
Q. You’ve served on the boards of your state’sConservation Trust and Defenders of the Environment. You also testified in Congress last October, on behalf of the NAHB, about President Obama’s National Ocean Policy, during which you stated “communities must define themselvesas they choose” when it comes to coastal and inland development issues. As NAHB chairman, where do you think the line should be drawn between environmental protection and a community’s inclination to grow?
A. The NAHB and its members recognize the need to protect the nation’s natural resources, and many of our members go above and beyond the current requirements of the Endangered Species Act, the Clean Water Act, and other federal, state, and local environmental statutes in order to build environmentally friendly homes. Rather than drawing a line between environmental protection and a community’s need for growth, the NAHB believes that it is important to seek balance.
Community leaders and home builders must work together to meet a number of sometimes competing needs. Some of those needs include housing that meets the requirements of families across the economic and demographic spectrum; protecting the environment and natural resources; reasonable proximity to jobs; recreational resources; safe neighborhoods; a strong, broad-based local economy; open space and access to natural resources. Balancing such disparate concerns can be a difficult task, but it is important that growth and development fulfill the needs of the entire community and that decisions be made at the local level rather than by the federal government. The NAHB also believes strongly that any potential government policies that will broadly shape the future of our communities must be based on solid research and sound science and data and allow for choices and flexibility in the marketplace.
I have been involved in land conservation efforts for 30 years. But in each case, the donation or sale of the land has been voluntary. Conservation has not been forced upon anybody, and these programs work remarkably well.