April 2, 2014
By Joe Maniscalco
New York, NY – Developers of the Domino Sugar project in Brooklyn may have already gotten the okay from City Planning commissioners last month to rezone the massive waterfront site – but this week the councilman representing the community where the housing development is set to rise later this year, called the plan “catastrophic” – and he was not alone in his condemnation.
Councilman Antonio Reynoso [D-District 34] made his remarks ahead of a Zoning and Franchises Subcommittee hearing on Tuesday, in which the principals of Two Trees Management got an earful from labor groups and others insisting that ultimate approval of the development be contingent upon a guarantee of good jobs, affordable housing and community benefits.
The de Blasio administration recently succeeded in leveraging an increase in the number of "affordable" housing units outlined in the Two Trees development, in exchange for significant public assistance and benefits.
But Councilman Reynoso dismissed the entire formula based on Average Median Income [AMI] used to determine what “affordable” actually means.
“Every time we build one unit of affordable housing on the waterfront, we lose three families,” the freshman legislator said. “The maps do not make sense. The antiquated systems of the previous mayor’s office have left us with nothing. AMI needs to real. Sixty-five percent of my district cannot afford 80 percent AMI. The majority of these people [here] will not be able to live in this development.”
John Skinner, president/political director, Metal Lathers Reinforcing Ironworkers, referenced the recently-released study by Columbia University’s School International and Public Affairs advocating for more union jobs and apprenticeship opportunities for minority youths, and said that Two Tree’s plan to develop the old Domino Sugar factory falls far short of fulfilling the progressive goals that swept the de Blasio administration and its allies into office last fall.
“Let’s be clear: Two Trees is looking for tremendous public benefits at Domino Sugar, including a major rezoning, a tax abatement, and nearly $700 million in tax-exempt bonds from the state,” Skinner said. “In return, Two Trees needs to commit to real community benefits, including additional low-income housing, enhanced public and community space, local community hiring and good jobs for all construction workers on the site.”
Two Trees Management bought the controversial Domino factory site about 18 months ago, and plans on building roughly 2,300 units of new housing there – most of it luxury.
Demolition work on the site – as Two Trees principal Jed Walentas pointed out during the hearing – is already underway, and being carried out by union workers.
The developer has been in talks with the Building and Construction Trades Council [BCTC] about the issue of union labor for some time.
BCTC Chief of Staff Paul Fernandes later said that those conversations have been “good,” but did not offer anything more.
“We’re still having discussions,” Fernandes said. “How it goes in the future, we’ll have to see.”
Vivienne Keys, a Brooklyn resident and member of Ironworkers Local 46, said that developers like Two Trees Management who seek significant public concessions, need to “give back to the community.”
“This means Two Trees should commit to creating middle-class jobs and real career opportunities like I have as a member of Local 46 – not just short-term, low wage jobs,” Keys said.
Fellow Brooklynite Abraham Rosado said that he knows all about what it’s like being exploited as a non-union construction worker.
“I can tell you from experience, non-union construction is not a good job,” Rosado said. “From 2010 until 2014, I worked for one of the biggest non-union construction contractors, called Super Structure Builders. When I worked non-union I made ten dollars an hour and I lived paycheck to paycheck. I didn’t have any healthcare. I didn’t have any retirement benefits. And I didn’t have any real safety training.”
Rosado has since become part of a class action lawsuit against Super Structure Builders alleging years of stolen wages.
Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley [D-District 30], joined with her fellow legislator in criticizing Two Trees Manaement, and stressed the importance of attaching real career opportunities with union benefits and protections to the Domino Sugar development.
“It’s not too much for the council to ask for a project labor agreement,” the councilwoman said.
The full City Council is expected to vote on the Domino Sugar factory development later this month.