Housing market worries how immigration bills could affect the market

OKLAHOMA CITY - The images at the U.S. border are emotional.

"Nobody likes to see families separated. At the same time, we don't want people coming into our country illegally. This takes care of the problem,” President Donald Trump said while signing an executive order earlier this week.

Trump signed an executive order earlier this week, reversing his own policy to separate families when parents enter the country illegally.

While Congress debates immigration bills, a new report highlights what some in the housing industry worry about:  a very tight labor market for building and repairing homes.

"There's no surprise and there's really no secret that the immigrant workforce does a large part of the new home construction industry,” Rusty Appleton, executive officer with the Central Oklahoma Home Builders Association, said.

The Counselors of Real Estate lists 10 threats to real estate for 2019; one factor on the list is immigration.  Too few workers can drive up costs from roofing to painting.

The most recent American Community Survey by the U.S. Census Bureau shows over 24% of residential construction labor is made up of immigrants. In Oklahoma, that number is close to about 16%.

"The position of home builders nationwide is that any immigration reform would first secure the borders but then also have a visa-based program and even a guest worker program that really addressed our economic needs. Right now, our immigration policy doesn't really do that,” he said.

Rusty Appleton believes the 2008 economic crisis also drove away some workers.

"A lot of people left the skilled trades because there were no jobs for them and when the economy recovered, they never really came back,” Appleton said.

According to the 2016 American Community Survey, there were 130,000 immigrants going into construction in 2004. In 2015, there's less than 60,000.   Thus-- a domino effect.

“If they're waiting for another sub-contractor to show up, they're not building a house, which means more carried interest and more carried cost into the building of a home,” he said.

Appleton said it is more expensive to build a home right now. He says raw material costs are also a factor, which could go higher in connection with the new tariffs the Trump administration has put in place.