De Blasio has faced a recent push from both New York City Unions and the city’s affordable housing activists to make half of his proposed affordable housing units union-employed. Pressure from unions is nothing new to Mayor de Blasio. It is unusual however for those unions to be accompanied by affordable housing advocates alongside them. Construction unions and affordable housing activists have traditionally been at odds, making this new union an unconventional duo.[1]

Traditionally, affordable housing units are built with non-union construction workers, because union members’ higher wages increase building costs that could otherwise be used to create more affordable units. Developers are legally allowed to do this because of a provision in the Davis Bacon wage requirements. Generally, Davis Bacon wage requirements, or requirements to hire union workers, apply only to the construction of new units of affordable housing. Davis Bacon exempts affordable housing redevelopment projects. However recently under the Redevelopment Assistance Demonstration program, affordable housing developers undergoing rehabilitation projects classified as “big projects” must also hire union workers. It is still unclear what will classify as a “big project,” but it can be certain that this may soon change the game of affordable redevelopment, making the employment of union workers a growing reality.[2]

Conversely, union workers generally elect to take on luxury higher paying market-rate housing projects rather than below-market affordable housing developments. “You can [either] work on an affordable housing project and make $60 an hour or you can work another project and make $100 an hour,” said David Kramer, a principal at Hudson Companies, which develops affordable and market-rate housing to the Wall Street Journal in an article published on September 3rd.[3] But now, union interest in affordable housing is growing as building trades lose membership, lost market share increases, and union influence in the construction sector decline. The two groups have met halfway to support each other’s goals and emerging problems. The unions, who have a longstanding relationship with Mayor de Blasio, will be supporting the call for 80,000 or 50% of de Blasio’s new units to be set aside for lower and middle income residents over the next decade in exchange for union work on these projects. Unions are also willing to accept lower wages for newer less experienced workers on affordable housing projects in areas of New York City including Queens’ Brooklyn, the Bronx, and Upper Manhattan. In return, these workers would be employed for 40% lower wages than typical luxury residential projects. Affordable housing activists support this plan, because the union’s proposal also allows flexibility to hire non-union members of the community, and gives the community members a chance to later be brought into the union.[4]

Despite this new alliance, opposition is still faced on both sides. Some union supporters feel that by hiring lower waged and lower skilled workers, housing projects are not getting the very best. Additionally, affordable housing real-estate developers are still weary of cut profits even with the reduced wages. This is the case especially with buildings that are only 50% affordable units.[5]

It is not clear what the “right” answer may be when it comes to choosing between affordable housing and quality jobs. Hopefully with increased partnership and compromise, New York City will be able to continue to develop affordable housing solutions as well as properly fund the work that goes into doing so.



[1] “Affordable-Housing Developers, Unions to Discuss Wage Proposal.” The Wall Street Journal. Dow Jones & Company, n.d. Web. 11 Sept. 2014. <http://online.wsj.com/articles/affordable-housing-developers-unions-to-discuss-wage-proposal-1409794849>.

[2] “HUD issues long-awaited PBV Final Rule implementing HERA changes.” Nixon Peabody. N.p., n.d. Web. 12 Sept. 2014. <http://www.nixonpeabody.com/HUD_issues_long_awaited_Section_8_PBV_final_rule>.

[3] See 1

[4] “Unions, Activists Align on Affordable Housing.” The Wall Street Journal. Dow Jones & Company, n.d. Web. 12 Sept. 2014. <http://online.wsj.com/articles/unions-activists-align-on-affordable-housing-1408497156?tesla=y&mg=reno64-wsj&url=http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052970203708104580102110778135790.html>.

[5] “Construction unions reconsider affordable housing stance.” RSS. N.p., n.d. Web. 12 Sept. 2014. <http://therealdeal.com/blog/2014/08/28/construction-unions-reconsider-affordable-housing/>.

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