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New York Announces Plan To Build Housing for Essential Workers

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New York essential workers react to a ticker tape parade given in appreciation of their service to the city during the throes of the Covid-19 pandemic.

New York City was an early epicenter of the Covid-19 epidemic. During the panicked days of early 2020, a Navy hospital ship docked in the city to provide relief, morgues were set up in hospital parking lots and garages, and businesses, like restaurants and gyms, shut down. It was in this time when we all learned the high value of our city’s essential workers.

They were grocery store workers, providers of medical care, building cleaners, firefighters and police, construction workers, public transportation workers. And we needed their services more than ever. Without them, our city and many more of its residents would die. Every night at 7PM, for months, many of us leaned outside our windows and applauded, banged pots, blew whistles in tribute to these hardworking, frontline heroes.

Essential Workers Have Needs Too

But our gratitude doesn’t pay their rent. According to a story in Street Easy, a New York City real estate periodical, the average annual earnings for a city essential worker is under $56,000. That’s far short of the $94,000 take home that would be recommended for someone paying the average New York City rent of $2,600 a month (2020 prices).

The Street Easy story details these people and their lives.
“New York City’s more than 1 million essential workers are a diverse group in industry and demographics. More than half of essential workers are foreign born; 63% are women; and 75% are people of color. These workers often face heightened challenges as a result of the city’s ongoing affordability crisis. Many lack healthcare, have long commutes, and live in overcrowded conditions.”

One such essential worker, a nurse at Harlem Hospital Center, told Union Built Matters, “The applause and gratitude are very nice. But I still can’t afford to live in the city that apparently loves me.”

A Very Real Thank You

In response to the growing housing crisis, a coalition of city, labor, and private enterprise has collaborated on a plan that will add affordable housing, as well as homes for essential workers, here in New York City.

According to a press release on the effort, “New York has signed a historic memorandum of understanding with BCTC (Building and Construction Trades Council) and Cirrus (Workforce Housing Advisors ) to facilitate the development of affordable housing, including workforce housing, to meet the crisis of undersupply facing New York City,”

New York City Mayor Eric Adams, BCTC President Gary LaBarbera, and Cirrus announced what they called “the first-of-its-kind partnership to build workforce housing in New York City designed for essential workers.”

A New York City nurse says, “The applause and gratitude are very nice. But I still can’t afford to live in the city that apparently loves me.”

Big Funding

Leveraging pension funds affiliated with BCTC members and other building trades unions, and fund-raising from Cirrus, the group has committed an initial $100 million to invest in multi-family workforce housing development and redevelopment projects here that they say will remain affordable to essential workers. Cirrus has said it expects to raise a total of over $400 million for this initiative.

The press release says that this “agreement demonstrates how government, labor, and private enterprise can partner to build the city out of the housing crisis.”

The mayor said, “As the blue-collar mayor of America’s biggest union town, I have been clear that our mission is to create good-paying jobs and make our city more livable for hardworking New Yorkers,” He added, “This first-of-its-kind agreement will help build housing that is affordable for the New Yorkers who have built our city, and help New York City lead on the affordable housing crisis facing our nation.”

Unions Commit

LaBarbera added, “This partnership will lead to the development of affordable workforce housing under negotiated Project Labor Agreements that will create family-sustaining union careers for New Yorkers. We believe that the union funds investing in this program have demonstrated tremendous vision and we look forward to building the housing supply for the city’s working class.”

“Cirrus is excited to align as part of a public-private partnership with the City of New York and organized labor in an innovative, first-of-its-kind program that will provide much needed workforce housing for those who make the city work,” said Joe McDonnell, managing partner, Cirrus Real Estate Partners.

When told of the new construction plan from city, union and private entities, that Harlem Hospital Center nurse who can’t afford to live in New York City said, “I’ll take an affordable rent and a nice place to live over applause and parades every day of the week. Thanks, unions, for putting your money down on this idea. I hope you make it happen. I’d love to live closer to work.”

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