Directors on the Rhode Island Builders Association’s board have had numerous discussions about how their group can improve the plight of local builders. But the scope of any idea is limited by revenue shortfalls caused by the housing recession. “We’re down, since ’05, 120 members [to 1,380],” says executive director Roger Warren. “Revenue from our home show and health insurance program is down, too.”

Market conditions are forcing HBAs to justify their existence by highlighting the value of their educational programs, their advocacy, and the information on housing trends they impart. “We focus on local, county, and state issues for the builders, including big companies that have laid off so many people that they need us more than ever,” asserts Irene Porter, executive director of the Southern Nevada HBA in Las Vegas.

Doing more with less has become the standard mode of operation for many HBAs. Membership at the HBA of Illinois, which peaked at 4,900 in January 2007, had declined to 3,800 in November 2008, says executive vice president William Ward. The HBA of Florida saw its builder membership drop 19.7 percent to 6,847 from the end of 2007 through late November 2008; its associate membership also fell 16.7 percent to 9,415. Paul Thompson, the HBA’s CEO, budgeted 2009 based on the group having 11,000 total members, although he doubts the dropoff will be that steep.

The New York State Builders Association, which generates more than half of its revenue from services, is emphasizing membership benefits. For example, its manufacturer rebate program returns, on average, $250 per quarter to builders. The group helped create a green building mortgage program and was instrumental in rejuvenating the state’s vacant lot tax abatement program. “We are reminding members of the tax benefits they may have forgotten,” says executive vice president Phil LaRocque.

State and local HBAs take cues from the national association in Washington, which has enhanced its member services to include more survival toolkits and seminars. The NAHB typically works behind the scenes on behalf of builders, but sometimes its presence is more overt. Last May, it sent president and CEO Jerry Howard and executive vice president of advocacy Bill Kilmer to meet with the editorial board of Cleveland’s The Plain Dealer at the behest of the HBA of Greater Cleveland. “We came out of that meeting with The Plain Dealer agreeing to contact the HBA on any future stories,” says executive director Joe Race.

The NAHB is now urging builder members with more time on their hands to concentrate on professional development through their HBAs. “We want to help them do their jobs better,” says Lorraine Urey, director of member services for the Texas Association of Builders, whose recent trade show included seminars on that topic.

Learn more about markets featured in this article: Las Vegas, NV.