There’s an interesting opinion piece today in the Commercial Observer that lays bare the full extent to which union selfishness is undermining the attempt by Mayor de Blasio to provide more affordable housing for NYC. What’s even more disturbing, however, is the nefarious role being played by Communities for Change, the spin off from the old Acorn organization:
“Construction union bosses are launching a new push to stifle affordable housing in New York City. Led by the Building and Construction Trades Council of Greater New York, the unions are demanding a virtual monopoly on housing construction and the ability to pay some of their workers more than $200,000 per year in prevailing wages and benefits. They’ve now started running that political operation behind a smokescreen. The most galling thing is that they’re doing it under the guise of affordable housing advocacy.”
The play by the construction unions is a classic knock of the old wolf in sheep’s clothing fable-hiding their rapaciousness behind the cloak of affordable housing even as they must know that paying their demand for “prevailing wages” will make it almost impossible to come anywhere near the mayor’s ambitious housing goals.
Their original campaign was disingenuously called “Real Affordability For All” (RAFA)-which might have been true if by “all” they meant all of the union workers. Needless to say, that the scheme fell flat because their erstwhile allies felt hoodwinked- but the building trades are nothing if not intrepid.
The Trades, firm believers in reincarnation, have repackaged the old bogus concept. This time, however, they have the dubious Communities for Change as an ally. (Or perhaps as a wholly owned subsidiary):
“This time, the unions have taken things a step further. They’ve launched the new “Real Gentrifiers” campaign through New York Communities for Change, or NYCC—one of the lead groups behind RAFA…Unlike RAFA, NYCC tries to hide its association with the building trades by keeping any mention of the unions off its “Real Gentrifiers” website. But NYCC already made a big mistake. At one if its first “Real Gentrifiers” events, published images show NYCC protesters holding Building and Construction Trades Council signs. So much for keeping a secret.”
Not surprising that the Acorn doesn’t fall far from the tree. In its former self, NYCC was involved in embezzlement and fraud. A lack of transparency runs in the group’s DNA. But using the bogeyman of gentrification is low even for this outfit. (http://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2009/09/acorn-a-cautionary-tale/27216/)
Building any kind of affordable housing must by financial necessity involve a mix of market rate and affordable units. If you block the market rate aspect of this housing initiative, you are also making it very difficult if not impossible to get the needed affordable units built.
The irony here is the injection of prevailing wage into the equation can only be feasible if the value of the developments is ratcheted up so that the entire project can become affordable-for the developer and the contractors, without whom nothing will get built.
This brings us back to NYCC and its motives. The group may be arithmetically challenged, but even those for whom calculating is a second language must know that their prevailing wage allies are making it financially impossible-without massive public subsidies-to get anywhere near the mayor’s affordable housing goals. So why would they align themselves with this crew?
In our view, the only possible motive is money-and the alliance between NYCC and the Building Trades is a marriage of convenience with the formerly progressive NYCC conveniently shedding their political ideology for “thirty pieces of silver.” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thirty_pieces_of_silver)
If we are going to get the most affordable housing possible built, we are going to need to bring back the 421-A subsidy that makes the building of below market rate units affordable. This will not happen unless, as BNYC spokesperson Brad Gerstman has pointed out, we jettison the “myopic and selfish pleading by organized labor.”