NEW YORK, N.Y.—The City Council is on its way to passing a bill that would require most future affordable-housing developments to pay building-services workers a living wage.
The measure, Intro 1321, was approved by the Committee on Civil Service and Labor Oct. 30, just before about 125 people, mostly members of 32BJ SEIU, rallied on the steps of City Hall to support it. The full Council is expected to vote on it Nov. 15. More than three-fourths of the 51 members have signed on as cosponsors.
If enacted, the bill would enable the city to “build more affordable housing and provide good jobs at the same time,” 32BJ President Kyle Bragg told the rally. “Workers in affordable housing shouldn’t have to depend on public-assistance services.”
“Any time the city is building anything, we need to pay people a living wage with benefits, so we don’t make the affordable-housing crisis worse,” Councilmember Ben Kallos (D-Manhattan) told LaborPress before the rally. “It’s really as simple as that.”
Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration is backing the measure. “If people don’t make enough money, no housing is affordable,” Deputy Mayor Phil Thompson said.
The mayor’s affordable-housing program grants developers zoning exemptions and tax breaks if they agree to include a percentage of below-market-rate apartments—generally a minimum of 20% to 30%, depending on how low the rents are. The law would require future developments that get more than $1 million in aid from the city for construction or preserving rent-stabilized low-income units to pay prevailing wage to workers such as concierges, custodians, and security guards.
Under the federal formula the programs use, “low income” is defined as households with incomes of less than $57,660 a year for a family of three, who would pay about $1,440 a month rent. “Middle income” apartments can count as “affordable” at rents up to almost $4,000 for a family of three.
Supportive housing that provides social services for disabled or formerly homeless people with incomes of less than about $45,000 a year would be exempt. The Council is expected to expand those exemptions before the final vote, according to 32BJ. Speaker Corey Johnson (D-Manhattan) praised the union for its “balance” in agreeing to that.
“Having a job with prevailing wage is life-changing,” said 32BJ member Richard Iorio, who works in East River Housing. At his previous job, he told the rally, he had to give up a raise to get health insurance.
Gardner Soto, a porter at the part-affordable, part-luxury City Point development in downtown Brooklyn, told LaborPress before the rally that he had been making $12 an hour before the building’s new owner signed a contract with 32BJ in April 2018. He now makes $21.16.
“I can now finally go to doctors and take care of my health,” says Soto, a 49-year-old father of four who suffers from high blood pressure and bipolar disorder. “In the past, I wasn’t taking my meds because I couldn’t afford them.”
Kallos has introduced another bill, Intro 1322, that would require prevailing wage for construction workers on affordable housing projects. That would be much harder to achieve politically,” as virtually all contractors in the program now are nonunion, and the de Blasio administration has quietly avoided using union labor.
That bill has 10 cosponsors and has not received a committee hearing since it was introduced in January.