Building Trades

Unions Rally for De Blasio Housing Plan

March 14, 2016
By Steven Wishnia  

New York, NY – Contingents from the city’s largest labor unions joined the American Association of Retired Persons outside City Hall Mar. 9 for a rally supporting Mayor Bill de Blasio’s affordable-housing plan.

“With Mandatory Inclusionary Zoning, we create more affordable housing than ever before. We change the rules of the game,” de Blasio told the crowd. “Because it says to real estate developers, you must build affordable housing if you want to build anything.” He said that the City Council enacting the two bills related to the plan would be remembered as the moment “when an affordable city was saved… when we turned the tide in favor of working people, in favor of families, in favor of seniors.”

Unions in the crowd included Local 32BJ SEIU, 1199SEIU, District Council 37, the Hotel Trades Council, the Communications Workers of America, and Local 338 of the "and the Retail, Wholesale, and Department Store Union."

Local 32BJ is supporting the plan, the union said in a statement, “because it will provide vital housing for hard-working people who are seeing the housing stock for middle and working-class families like theirs disappear.” More and more of 32BJ’s 70,000 members here, it added, “are forced to move far from the city to find a home they can afford. Or they face tough choices on how to manage all their family expenses and pay their rent.”

Under mandatory inclusionary zoning, the city would be able to rezone neighborhoods to allow taller buildings, and developers would be required to include 25% to 30% below-market-rate apartments in those buildings. Those apartments would be aimed at households making roughly $40,000 to $70,000 a year, although city housing officials say additional subsidies would enable some to be cheaper.

The plan has divided the city’s unions. The main service-worker unions have endorsed it, on similar grounds to 32BJ’s. The building-trades unions are opposing it, because it does not require the use of union labor or union-scale safety standards.

Another criticism is that few of the apartments required by the plan would be affordable to low-wage workers, and that market-rate development in neighborhoods like East New York and Highbridge in the Bronx would drive people out by stimulating gentrification. The administration envisions that more than 160,000 new market-rate apartments would cross-subsidize 80,000 affordable apartments, but it estimates that only about 16,000 would be affordable for people making less than $40,000.

However, the Real Affordability for All coalition, which includes the Building and Construction Trades Council of Greater New York and housing-advocacy organizations opposed to the plan, decided to postpone a protest scheduled for Zuccotti Park, a few blocks south of City Hall the same day.

“We are postponing this action, not canceling it, based on productive movement in current negotiations,” coalition director Maritza Silva-Farrell said in a message to supporters. “In the days ahead, we hope to reach an agreement with city officials on how to achieve deeper real affordability and good job standards in Mayor de Blasio's housing plan. But this postponed action could happen as early as next week if necessary.”

“This plan is a starting point, not the finish line,” Local 32BJ said. “We will also continue to work to secure good jobs for all workers in any new developments. Both goals—building more affordable housing and creating good jobs in the process—are necessary for New York to reverse the trend of increasing income inequality."

The Council is expected to vote on the two bills related to the plan, Mandatory Inclusionary Housing and Zoning for Quality and Affordability, later this month.

March 13, 2016

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