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Can Builders Keep Building During Austin's Stay-At-Home Order?

A construction worker at a building site at Trinity and Cesar Chavez in downtown Austin on March 23, 2020.
Julia Reihs
A construction worker works at a building site at Trinity and Cesar Chavez in downtown Austin last week.

When Austin issued its stay-at-home order last week, it was kind of vague about construction. Some people were confused, and plenty of builders stayed on the job. So, can builders keep building?

No – with some exceptions.

The order Mayor Steve Adler issued to help stop the spread of the coronavirus mandated many businesses close — except for a lengthy list of what are considered “essential” businesses. That list does not include residential or commercial construction.

However, some kinds of construction are still allowed.

Those include:

  • Public works construction projects
  • Affordable housing projects
  • Construction of facilities for individuals experiencing homelessness
  • Construction of facilities that provide social services
  • Construction of facilities defined as essential businesses, essential government functions, or critical infrastructure (grocery stores, gas stations, health care facilities, police stations, utilities, transportation infrastructure, etc.)
  • Construction of facilities specifically required by the city in response to the COVID-19 emergency

Any construction site that does operate (because it meets the criteria above) are required to send sick workers home and to allow for physical distancing of at least 6 feet between employees while they’re on the job.
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The city does say that if even part of a construction project includes one of these categories, the entire project will be exempt from the order — meaning construction can continue.

The mayor’s order specifically exempts electricians, plumbers and other trades that “provide services that are necessary to maintaining the safety, sanitation, and essential operation of residences,” so those small household repairs are not a problem. But a major remodel or renovation is unlikely to be allowed.

On Monday, the city announced a process for developers to apply for their projects to be deemed essential. They can fill out this form, which goes to a committee of city officials. It's unclear whether a construction site is allowed to continue operating until that determination is made. A call to the city's Development Services Department was not immediately returned.

If you want to report a construction site you think is not complying with the order, you can file a 311 complaint here.

The real estate industry isn’t too happy with the restrictions.

“Public health and safety is the top priority for all of us, but the mayor’s implementation of a construction ban shuts down essential work, makes unrelated exceptions for narrow categories, and goes too far,” Dianne Bangle, CEO of the Real Estate Council of Austin, said in a news release last week. “Implementing this construction ban will devastate construction workers and small businesses, including large communities of color, skilled and unskilled trades, labor and their families.”

Got a tip? Email Matt Largey at Follow him on Twitter @mattlargey.

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Matt Largey is the Projects Editor at KUT. Got a tip? Email him at Follow him on Twitter @mattlargey.
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