October 16, 2015
By Joe Maniscalco
New York, NY – A $1 billion commitment to finance 20,000 units of union-built affordable housing over the next five to seven years has put smiles on a lot of faces around town this week — but it’s certainly done nothing to alleviate the wedge between Mayor Bill de Blasio and the city’s Building Trades.
On Thursday, both New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer and Public Advocate Letitia James — each trustees of the city’s pension system — praised the AFL-CIO Housing Investment Trust’s latest commitment to the city, while also holding it up as proof positive that affordable housing can, indeed, be built in this town using union labor.
To demonstrate his position, Stringer, as the city’s chief financial officer, also confirmed that the New York City Retirement Systems would also be investing $150 million into the HIT fund, calling the new financing “a fiscally smart marriage of resources and housing policy.”
“I’m happy to continue the New York City Pension Funds’ long and proud history with the HIT by contributing an additional $150 million to the AFL-CIO’s Housing Investment Trust – as part of their commitment to invest $1 billion in New York’s affordable, union-built housing over the next seven years,” Stringer said in a statement.
The de Blasio administration, however, has long maintained that union labor is too costly and that extending prevailing wage guarantees to housing projects made possible through public assistance would undermine efforts to effectively address the city’s affordable housing crisis.
Earlier this year, Alicia Glen, deputy mayor for housing and economic development, argued that mandating developers benefiting from 421a tax breaks also pay construction workers prevailing wages and benefits would negate the construction of 17,000 affordable housing units.
That stance immediately stoked the ire of organized labor, and it hasn’t abated since.
New York City Central Labor Council President Vincent Alvarez, has called the city's decision to exclude workers from earning higher wages and other benefits a “slap in the face to hardworking men and women." New York State AFL-CIO President Mario Cilento, has expressed disappointment in de Blasio, arguing that the City of New York should be “supporting prevailing wages for all workers, particularly on affordable housing projects that give tax breaks to wealthy developers.”
Mayor de Blasio’s trouble with the unions has barely had time to cool off following last week’s resolution of the MTA funding flap, which had again pitted Hizzoner against the Building Trades — this time over how much the city should be spending on mass transit.
But in the affordable housing tussle, de Blasio’s camp insists that while the administration is against across-the-board mandates for union participation, it remains open to every opportunity to build union.
“We welcome the support of working people and all officials to keep New York City affordable,” spokesperson Wiley Norvell told LaborPress.
That said, low wages, and lack of benefits are not the only reasons why the de Blasio administration has been getting flak over its affordable housing stance.
All told, the Hit’s $1 billion investment in affordable housing is projected to translate into a $2.6 billion economic windfall for the city, while creating 14,700 jobs — 7,300 of them good union jobs.
“The HIT has invested union and public pension funds to provide market returns, while increasing the supply of affordable housing and creating union jobs in municipalities across the country,” HIT CEO Stephen Coyle said in a statement. “This investment will help us continue our substantial work in NYC.”