Herman Farrer

Dean Mon recently took the reigns as NAHB's chairman of the board. He also serves the president of the Shrewsbury, N.J.–based D.R. Mon Group, which has created communities throughout Morris, Hunterdon, Union, Hudson, and Monmouth counties. The firm prides itself on building affordable single-family homes, condos, and apartments, with an emphasis on sustainability. Mon has served as the president of the New Jersey Builders Association and the Metropolitan Builders & Contractors Association of New Jersey. BUILDER recently asked Mon about the state of the housing industry and his areas of focus for the coming year.

Q: What is the best thing about being in the building industry?
A: Coming to the United States from Cuba as a young person, I saw a lot of opportunity, but wasn’t entirely sure what direction to take. I was drafted into the Army in 1968 and spent two years as an artillery sergeant in Vietnam. During that time, I became an American citizen, which unlocked many doors for me.

After my service ended, I started my career as an engineer, and then went to work with my father-in-law, who was a builder. I later left his business to start my own, moving from remodeling to multifamily green building.

My favorite thing about being in the building industry is the relationships I have made at NAHB. Those friends and colleagues helped me begin to see the real problem: Affordable and desirable housing is out of reach for too many Americans. That’s how, and why, I got into the multifamily business. I wanted to help people achieve their dreams of owning a home without going into crippling debt. I wanted to help others find their direction in this land that afforded me so much opportunity.

Q: You’ve placed a high priority on the affordability issue. Is there anything you or the national building industry can do to help deal with the issue?
A: Building homes that are affordable to buyers continues to be the greatest challenge for builders; this includes the many factors that drive up the cost of home building. Currently, economists say that buying a home would be a “financial stretch” for typical American families in 71% of U.S. counties.

The key factors contributing to this affordability crisis are a lack of skilled labor and the burdensome cost of regulatory compliance. As the demand for skilled workers goes up, so does the cost of employing those workers. NAHB is working hard to spread the word to high school students, veterans, and many other groups about the fulfilling and good paying careers to be had in residential construction.

As for the cost of regulatory compliance, regulations that impact the building industry are set by bureaucrats and elected officials at each level of government. Throughout the 2020 election cycle, NAHB will be engaging with candidates on this issue, making sure that creating a favorable regulatory environment for home building is a legislative priority moving forward.

Q: Will serving as chairman during an election year have any impact on achieving your goals?
A: This is an enormously consequential election year, and NAHB will be very active in supporting pro-housing, pro-business candidates for public office. Pushing back on burdensome regulations and government overreach, and educating and building up our workforce to provide an increasing number of high-quality, affordable homes for our customers remain high priorities. We’ll capitalize on the opportunity afforded to us by the conversations taking place around the election to elevate those goals.

We’re engaging with the election process in several ways. Our biggest push currently is our town hall series, with local leaders, candidates, and industry experts who will highlight key issues surrounding housing affordability and discuss solutions to these challenges.

Q: What are the biggest challenges faced by builders in your market?
A: Starting out in the remodeling side of the business, I realized there was so much more opportunity to help people by getting into building multifamily. Then, I saw where the market was headed, and I followed suit. I wanted to offer home buyers the ability to live out the American dream of homeownership, in a modern, green, affordable way.

But regulations currently make up about one-third of the cost of building, and every $1,000 of additional cost prices over 158,000 potential home buyers out of the market. NAHB just released a study on green market activity that indicates added cost is one of the biggest challenges facing green builders;

another is that the average consumer does not understand what makes a home green. It’s our job as builders to communicate the benefits of a green home in a way that consumers can understand to help drive market demand.

Q: How have those challenges helped shape your priorities?
A: With the burden of regulations, builders must increase the cost of selling a home to make even a small profit margin. After all, most home builders are small-business owners trying to make it like the rest of us. That is why my priorities on political advocacy remain: Because housing will not become more affordable unless we are intentional about supporting pro-housing candidates that will help roll back these burdensome regulations.

I want to emphasize how imperative it is for our members to be engaged in the code development process at both the local and national level. The more people we have speaking up for our industry, the easier and more streamlined the process will become for everyone.

Q: Any advice for builders who want to learn about building green, affordable housing?
A: My relationships with other NAHB members were the catalyst to my business becoming what it is today. My advice for builders trying to learn more about affordable, green housing is to reach out to someone who’s already doing it. Making use of the tools offered through voluntary, above-code third-party green certification programs has helped me demonstrate the value and quality of building green in my market. One of my recent New Jersey projects was among the first in the state to be certified according to the National Green Building Standard, LEED, and Energy Star. The more you build green homes, the more the learning curve disappears for you and your subcontractors, ultimately increasing efficiency and productivity, and reducing costs.