November 25, 2014
By Joe Maniscalco
New York, NY – With all the talk around the city’s drive to build 200,000 units of affordable housing over the next decade, there continues to be one aspect of the effort that is not getting enough air time: Who will build it?
Despite consistent criticism from worker advocates, some of the biggest housing developers in the city continue to engage with questionable contractors notorious for abusing hardworking men and women.
Last week, the NYC Community Alliance for Worker Justice “nominated” developers Donald Capoccia, Nicholas Lembo and Arker Companies for the “2014 Awards for Excellence in Exploitive Housing.”
The leafletting campaign that took place outside the Yale Club on November 19, calling out the heavyweight developers as “turkeys,” followed a NYC Housing & Development Corporation hearing held a couple of days prior, in which worker advocates gave impassioned testimonies about what it’s like working for the Auringer family of companies – a hugely successful construction firm that has a long history of wage theft, discrimination and on-the-job harassment.
“Developers who discriminate, steal from workers, violate worker health and safety, and produce shoddy housing have no place in our city," Maritza Silva-Farrell of ALIGN later said. "It's possible to create quality affordable housing and quality jobs–but we need to call out the turkeys that stand in the way of those goals.”
In August, Public Advocate Letitia James publicly rejected the argument that Mayor Bill de Blasio’s affordable housing plan cannot be built union.
“We can build good, quality, safe housing with union workers,” James said. “And we demand that this administration build affordable housing – an aggressive program with affordable housing – and make sure that we build it union, respecting union workers.”
Three months later, however, Councilman Andy King [D-12th District], co-chair of the Black, Latino & Asian Caucus, says that the issue of worker rights as it relates to the mayor’s affordable housing plan is barely a blip on the radar screens of many lawmakers.
“It’s not talked about the way it should be talked about,” Councilman King told LaborPress. “With all of the agendas that are happening in government right now, this is one that is not being touched upon the way it should be touched upon.”
The Bronx councilman and union advocate said that if his colleagues in city government have a blind spot when it comes to shady contractors, it’s time that they “open their eyes.”
“And I think the only way that happens is by bringing more exposure and bringing the information to all the elected officials,” Councilman King said.
Some of the developers and contractors in question are currently involved in massive hosing projects all across the city, including the Essex Crossing development on the Lower East Side.
Councilman King directly called on Mayor de Blasio to do more to safeguard workers from unscrupulous contractors and exploitive devleopers.
“Since you have this great housing plan that you want to develop, you have to recognize the good actors from the bad actors – and the bad actors need to be held accountable or removed from the table,” the councilman said. “We have to tell the people who are making billions developing New York, 'Listen, either you do it right, or we’ll find somebody who does want to do it right.' It’s not that hard.”