Carl Harris
Carl Harris

Carl Harris, a Wichita, Kansas–based small volume spec and custom builder, was elected as the 2024 chairman of the NAHB at the conclusion of the 2024 International Builders’ Show (IBS). The co-founder and vice president of Carl Harris Co. and managing partner of Harris Homes has over four decades of experience in the home building, remodeling, and light commercial construction industries.

He has been active in the NAHB leadership structure at the local, state, and national levels throughout his career, serving as the NAHB state representative for Kansas and as chairman of several NAHB committees and councils. Harris also is a former president of the Kansas Building Industry Association and the Wichita Area Builders Association.

BUILDER spoke with Harris to discuss his career in home building, his goals as chair of the NAHB, and how the association hopes to help address industry challenges in 2024.

Can you share how you got into the industry?

In 1983, I got a degree in business administration from Wichita State University, and two years later my father, sister, and I founded Carl Harris Co., a specialty subcontracting firm specializing in structural steel and precast concrete erection services. Over the years, we’ve diversified that business and created several offshoots that cover residential building and light commercial construction. We also have affiliated firms that focus on remodeling activities, plumbing, and property management services. As a co-founder of the Carl Harris Co. and managing partner of Harris Homes, I’ve built homes in many communities around the state of Kansas.

How did you become involved with the NAHB, and can you share the personal significance of being named chairman?

I joined the Wichita Area Builders Association in 1988. I didn’t know much about the local association at that time, and I knew even less about NAHB. I didn’t walk in the front door of the Wichita BA for the first two years I was a member. But in 1990 I started getting more involved, and that’s when I began to understand how much our local and our state association— the Kansas Building Industry Association—were doing on members’ behalf. That’s also when I started to learn more about NAHB. Our members are delivering the dream of homeownership. We are building homes, enriching communities, and changing lives. We are the only ones who can do that, and I look forward to serving each and every member of NAHB in 2024.

What are the biggest problems you see home builders facing in 2024?

Home builders are facing a lot of challenges, but I’ll focus on three: workforce development, the ever-growing maze of regulations imposed by all levels of government, and high mortgage rates that are pricing many families out of the market for homeownership.

The construction industry needs to add roughly 720,000 new construction workers each year to meet demand. Residential construction represents 3.3 million of the total construction payroll employment of 8.1 million. The number of open construction sector jobs averages between 300,000 to 400,000 every month.

Every year, policymakers at the local, state, and federal levels are pushing new laws and regulations on every aspect of the home building process—labor issues, environmental issues, building codes, housing finance, and on down the list. The cumulative cost of all these regulations on a typical new home is $93,000. Think about that—$93,000 just in government-imposed regulations and fees. How do you deliver affordability when that’s your starting point?

And high mortgage interest rates put a damper on home sales last year. Total housing starts for 2023 were 1.41 million, a 9% decline from the 1.55 million total from 2022. The forecast for this year is looking better, but mortgage rates remain high, and many households are priced out of the market for homeownership.

How will NAHB work to alleviate these challenges?

Each of these challenges requires a very different approach. Building the workforce of the future demands a multifaceted approach. NAHB is working with a broad range of industry partners to attract young folks to the industry. We’re connecting with high school and middle school students (and their parents and counselors). We’re working with school districts to bring traditional shop class back into the curriculum. Our National Housing Endowment is building up construction trades and construction management programs at the college level. And of course, our Home Builders Institute is the leading provider of construction trades education under the Job Corps program.

On the regulatory front, we’re building relationships with elected officials and other policymakers across the political spectrum. The more they understand the work we do and the challenges we face, the better they see how new laws and regulations affect the cost of the homes we provide. There is growing recognition that outdated land-use policies make it difficult to meet housing demand. Members of Congress, governors, city council members—all kinds of folks—are realizing that current zoning practices that discourage higher-density development, including missing-middle housing, are a big part of the problem.

On mortgage rates, fortunately, we’re seeing signs that rates are likely to trend lower over the course of this year. The Fed’s fight against inflation has made progress, but the lingering inflation challenge is housing inflation. Shelter inflation—rent and homeownership costs—are still rising at a 5.7% rate, and, for the past year, more than half of overall inflation in the economy has been shelter inflation. And the only way to tame shelter inflation, and get overall inflation lower, is to build more housing.

What are your goals and priorities for 2024 as a leader? And for the NAHB as an organization?

I will be working closely with my fellow senior officers, other association leaders, and with NAHB staff to advance our members’ interests. I want to make sure this association is doing all it can to improve the business environment and the policy environment in which our members operate. We’re in the process of implementing a new strategic plan that will improve every aspect of NAHB operations and help us continue to deliver real value for our members.

What were your takeaways from IBS?

NAHB just enjoyed the best IBS we’ve had in 15 years. I came away with two big takeaways. First, conditions are favorable for home building right now. Demand is high, the supply chain problems we saw the last few years have largely abated, and policymakers want to help us solve the affordability crisis. Second, the Builders’ Show is the best place to be if you want to strengthen your business and build a better product. The amazing new products, the excellent educational programs, the extraordinary opportunity to connect with fellow professionals—there is nothing like it. Ask anyone who has attended the show, and they’ll tell you it’s a sensational experience.