Housing New York — Mayor de Blasio’s recently released plan to comprehensively address the city’s affordable housing crisis — recognizes a vital truth: that those working on the city’s affordable housing projects should receive a fair and livable wage, safe working conditions and opportunities for advancement. In determining how to implement Housing New York, the city must deliver on jobs that do right by these workers, so that they can actually afford to live in the affordable housing they’re building.
The city’s construction market is one of the most expensive in the country. Unions have largely been shut out of the city’s affordable housing projects in the past due to the higher cost of unionized workers, even though they deliver higher-quality work, faster. During the Bloomberg administration, many nonunion workers made $10 to $15 an hour on affordable housing construction jobs, compared with the livable wage that unionized workers received.
The mayor has acknowledged this problem in Housing New York by placing an emphasis on jobs that help New Yorkers attain a quality wage. Over the next 10 years, Housing New York will pump a significant amount of capital into the construction and preservation of over 200,000 housing units. It will generate up to 194,000 new construction jobs; of those, 7,100 will be permanent building service positions. As outlined in its plan, Housing New York has committed to creating not only quality affordable housing, but also quality jobs for working New Yorkers across the city.
Administering a project of such scope means the city should look to organized labor to cement its new, progressive agenda. Union construction jobs offer a rare pathway to the middle class for workers at all levels of education. Unionized construction workers have the opportunity to not only make a middle-class wage, giving them a better quality of life (and allowing them to reinvest in city businesses), but also be more stable and secure in general. Thanks to union benefits packages, workers and their families can receive healthcare, be eligible for life insurance, receive disability coverage and have access to a pension fund.
The Building and Construction Trades Council of Greater New York, which serves as an umbrella committee directing 15 construction-oriented unions, is in talks with the Mayor’s Office to take part in the billions the city will spend on affordable housing construction. Labor advocates as a whole have supported the idea of expanding union reach into a vast market that would create thousands of well-paying jobs for those aspiring towards the middle class.
In order to truly be a part of this mayor’s progressive agenda, Housing New York must place an emphasis on ensuring that those constructing its affordable living spaces are not themselves relegated to poverty. Right now, Housing New York is still in the conversation stage on such initiatives. The city has yet to come to a decision regarding how it will incorporate organized labor into the picture, although efforts have been made to partner with various job placement programs in order to help underserved and underemployed New Yorkers gain access to construction opportunities. As the details of the conversation are filled in, we on the City Council must be vigilant in our support of a fair wage for workers and the inclusion of organized labor into Housing New York’s construction plan.
Rory Lancman is New York City Councilman for the 24th District, in Central and northern Central Queens.