Advocates and pols demand real affordable housing, union jobs
by Benjamin Fang
Feb 02, 2016 | 5284 views | 0 0 comments | 75 75 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Public Advocate Letitia James speaks at the affordable housing rally.
Public Advocate Letitia James speaks at the affordable housing rally.
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In Mayor Bill de Blasio’s quest to build or preserve 200,000 units of affordable housing over the next decade, one coalition of advocates say the mayor’s plan isn’t affordable enough for the lowest-income New Yorkers.

Real Affordability for All, a coalition of community organizations and labor unions, hosted a rally in front of City Hall last Wednesday afternoon calling for the mayor to create truly affordable units and to demand union construction jobs in the process.

The demonstration came at the release of a report by the group that compares de Blasio’s Housing New York plan with former mayor Michael Bloomberg’s New Housing Marketplace plan. The report, titled “Tale of One Housing Plan,” said both plans were “strikingly similar.”

The coalition wrote that although de Blasio campaigned on addressing income inequality, his new plan, like Bloomberg’s housing policies, do not serve the lowest-income New Yorkers, especially those making under $23,000 a year for a family of three.

In fact, de Blasio’s Housing New York will only provide 5 percent of affordable units for that income range. The majority of affordable housing, 61 percent, will go to households earning between $39,000 and $62,000.

Public Advocate Letitia James questioned de Blasio’s plan.

“The mayor is about to embark on a five-borough housing plan to build affordable housing, but the question is, affordable for who?” James said. “We need to make sure that if we build more housing that we also need to ensure good jobs with strict labor standards and safety standards, because too many immigrants and too many non-union laborers have died.”

James said many non-union laborers toil under bad working conditions, and added that union jobs lead to middle-class growth.

“New York City was built by the working class, and it’s the working class that continues to sustain the city,” she said. “The way you sustain the city with the middle class is simple: union.”

She proposed a series of recommendations that would make affordable housing more accessible to low-income residents.

“My recommendations are to lower the income eligibility because the current guidelines exclude more than a quarter of New York City’s households in need of affordable housing,” she said. “Secondly, we have to demand the construction of even more affordable units if the developer chooses to build the units off-site.”

James also recommended designating newly zoned communities as “tenant anti-harassment zones” and guarantee equal treatment of tenants, no matter what they pay in rent.

“We have an opportunity to shape the housing landscape in our city for generations to come, and we have to get it right,” she said. “We cannot settle for anything less.”

Comptroller Scott Stringer referred to a report his office released weeks ago that examined the rezoning proposal in East New York to see if this plan was actually affordable for the people in the community.

“In order to obtain an affordable housing apartment under this proposal, you’d have to make $46,000 a year,” Stringer said. “Problem is, the area median income of the community is $32,000.”

He found that 55 percent of the people wouldn’t be able to afford the new affordable units under the proposal. Add that to 50,000 East New York residents with no rent protection and that produces displacement.

“Speculators come in, they buy up all the sites, jack up the rents and suddenly you have housing for the very, very wealthy, enclaves for the poor and you displace a community,” he said.

Stringer said de Blasio’s plan should be given “intense scrutiny.” He added that community-based planning is important because these communities weren’t consulted during the planning process.

“The only way we’re going to build the next generation of affordable housing is by bringing everyone to the table, stop rushing for a number and start working toward a real result,” Stringer said.

The comptroller also said public housing would be next to fall. Stringer called on de Blasio to appropriate $40 million a year for ten years – a total of $400 million – from the Battery Park City fund to invest in NYCHA housing.

“Let’s invest in the poorest people in the city,” he said. “When do the poor people of our city, hard working New Yorkers, when do they get a fair deal?”

Gary LaBarbera, president of the Building and Construction Trades Council, said there’s a great opportunity for the city to partner with unions to create middle class jobs.

Last year, 16 laborers died from working in unsafe conditions, LaBarbera said; fifteen of them were non-union.

“Five weeks ago, I and the community and all of the unions in the city brought 17 coffins right here, representing 16 deaths and one for the next unknown,” he said, standing on the steps of City Hall. “Of those deaths, those workers are minority workers.”

Local organizations from the different boroughs are part of the Real Affordability for All coalition, including Make the Road New York, Crown Heights Tenants Union (CHTU), New York Community for Change (NYCC) and Community Action for Safe Apartments (CASA).

Rigoberto Silva, a member of Make the Road New York in Jackson Heights, said in Spanish that he wouldn’t be able to afford the new units under de Blasio’s plan.

“Last year, I made less than $18,000,” Silva said through a translator. “What frustrates me about this housing plan is it leaves me out of the equation. Anytime my city puts out an affordable housing plan, we must ask, affordable for who?

“The current plan does not consider my needs,” he added. “The current plan is not affordable for me.”

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