Lumber prices aren’t the only thing skyrocketing.
Thefts of lumber from residential and commercial construction sites are spiking, too — along with the pilfering of copper, shingles, electrical supplies and other building materials.
Now, local building industry members are seeking help from the public to curtail the activity, which they say adds to their costs, delays construction and potentially drives up prices for homebuyers and businesses.
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The Housing & Building Association of Colorado Springs on Wednesday announced it’s partnering with Pikes Peak Area Crime Stoppers in an effort to deter the growing thefts.
A $1,000 reward, funded by HBA members, is being offered for information provided to the Crime Stoppers hotline that leads to the arrest of construction site thieves and vandals.
Tips provided on thefts and vandalism, like other crimes, can be made anonymously to Crime Stoppers at 719-634-STOP (7867). The line is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
The nonprofit Crime Stoppers, which operates through donations and volunteers, sends the information it receives to law enforcement agencies. Anonymous callers receive a special code that allows them to track their tips and receive their money in the event of an arrest.
Construction site thefts always have been a problem, Renee Zentz, CEO of the HBA, said during a news conference at a homebuilding site in the Flying Horse development on Colorado Springs’ north side.
But construction material prices, especially for lumber, have surged over the last year and thefts have exploded as a result, she said.
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Lumber shortages caused by COVID-19-related mill closures and work slowdowns, along with a furious demand for housing fueled by low mortgage rates, have combined to send prices through the roof.
The National Association of Home Builders said in April that higher lumber costs have added more than $35,000 to the average price of a new single-family home over the last 12 months.
Construction material plants in Texas that shut down in mid-February because of that state’s deep freeze also contributed to a lack of building products and rising prices, Zentz said.
Amid those shortages, stacks of lumber, plywood and other building materials stored at construction sites, and used for homes, apartments, stores, restaurants, offices and the like, have become inviting targets for thieves, who seek to resell the items. Thefts even have been attempted at lumber yards, building industry members said.
Some builders have reported a 300% increase in job site thefts over the last three months, and illegal activity has ratcheted up everywhere in the Springs and El Paso County, Zentz said.
“They’re more brash than they’ve ever been and it’s bigger than it’s ever been,” she said. “There’s always been job site theft, but not to this extent.”
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In the past, such thefts have been more likely to take place in outlying areas, Zentz said. Now, she said, they’re happening in residential neighborhoods.
That raises concerns that thieves also might stop to break into a parked car or steal a bicycle as they’re driving through a neighborhood, though Zentz said she’s unaware of such reports.
Still, “it’s a crime wave that could spread to other types of crimes,” Don Addy, president of the local Crime Stoppers chapter, said of building material thefts. “That’s our big concern.”
Building industry members don’t want to talk about security measures they’re taking at job sites to combat thefts, though they are working with the El Paso County Sheriff’s Office and the Colorado Springs Police Department.
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“Lumber yards, everywhere, are getting hit by opportunists to make money off of the high price of lumber right now,” said Steve Schlosser, construction manager for Classic Homes, one of the area’s largest builders. “I’m assuming, based on what they’re seeing on Facebook … that the materials that they’re taking, there’s a market for them, wherever it may be, to sell it.”
The HBA is prepared to pay out multiple $1,000 rewards to catch thieves, Zentz said. Construction sites typically operate from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., she added; if activity appears to be taking place outside those hours, the public should report it to Crime Stoppers.
“Err on the side of suspicion if it’s much later than 7 p.m.,” Zentz said.