In January of this year, Cynthia Russell, a home builder in Newberry, Fla., found herself thrust into the national spotlight when she was the first of 10 people selected by the Presidential Inaugural Committee to attend the inaugural ceremonies in Washington, D.C. Overnight, she became something of a celebrity, whisked to New York to be interviewed on “The Today Show” and offered a designer gown to wear to the Neighborhood Ball. Along with the delight of being part of the historic event, Russell also saw the opportunity to talk about the issues builders face in the economic crisis. A builder for nearly 20 years, Russell has struggled to stay afloat after a disastrous 2008 in which she did not sell a single house. She’s been living off savings and cashed-in equity on some property. She’s also canceled her health insurance and has her house up for sale.
Q: What are the most important issues you’re facing today as a builder?
A: For me as a builder, even though I’m trying to offer a better value at a good price, I’m in competition with people who are dumping their homes. … I’ve never had a problem getting a loan, even when my financials didn’t look good. My last loan took months. You have to jump through a lot of hoops these days. It’s scary to think that my credit line might be called.
Q: If you could sit down with President Obama, what would you tell him about the home building industry?
A: I’d love to tell him that I’m one woman who, when I build one house, I employ thousands of people. I employ 40 to 50 subs on each house. They buy products that are put in the homes. That employs people. They can go out to eat, go to movies, and buy trucks. That employs people. If he wants to put people back to work, he needs to fix housing. If they could break the dam in housing, people could go back to work.
Q: In your essay that won you tickets to the inauguration, you said that you wondered how long you could keep your company’s doors open. How can the government help you stay in business?
A: I’m like most people who get up and go to work. We aren’t looking for a handout. We want the economy to flow and the housing market back on track so we can get back to work. I know things will get better; it’s just a question of when. How much longer can builders hold on?