Building boom signaling California housing market rebound


At Champion Lumber Company in Riverside, business is thriving once again.

"If you would have come here a year, year and a half ago, this would have been a ghost town," said Joe Audette, Champion Lumber president and CEO.

Audette says like so many others in the construction industry, his lumber business took a big hit during the economic downturn.

"We went from 150 employees down to about 40. Our volume was off over 90 percent," said Audette.

He dubbed that time period the "housing depression." But those lean years may be over. With the rebounding housing market, the demand for lumber is soaring.

The Champion Lumber is currently supplying construction material for a student housing project near the University of Southern California campus.

"Single-family, at least in the Inland Empire, is still very sluggish, but the multi-family sector in L.A. County, Orange County, San Diego County is what's leading the recovery," said Audette.

At a construction site in the La Sierra area of Riverside, construction worker Andy Anderson remains hopeful there is a recovery on the horizon.

"Before we'd work, but you'd have weeks off between jobs," said Audette. "Now it is more consistent where you can work all the time, which is better for everybody."

Those in the construction industry are not ready to call this a recovery yet, but they say they do remain optimistic.

While Champion Lumber is receiving more orders, Audette says he is holding off on hiring more workers. That could change for two very important reasons: banks are lending again and the number of foreclosures is dwindling.

"That inventory has been decreasing," said Audette. "So I really think we're on track now for single-family homes to start to recover."

That's good news for Anderson. The single-family homes he's helping to build are nearly finished.

"This is the first year in a long time it feels like maybe we're going to have a roll here where we can continue to work," said Anderson.

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