Mayor Adams talks housing (photo: Mayor's Office)
Mayor Eric Adams has set the right tone and vision for rebuilding New York City’s middle class, and the Working People’s Agenda he outlined in his State of the City address should be welcomed by all New Yorkers.
A recent Moody’s Analytics study rated New York City #1 among the most rent-burdened cities in the nation. It’s an honor none of us want. That report also said that a New Yorker needs to earn at least $177,000 annually to not be “rent burdened,” as defined by the federal government. Moody’s found that many New Yorkers need to spend an astounding 69% of their income on rent.
As Mayor Adams indicated, making New York City more affordable and accessible hinges on the construction of 500,000 more homes across all five boroughs over the next decade. He has committed $23 billion for housing, including money for repairs to NYCHA buildings. As he stated clearly:
1) “You need good jobs and pathways to get those jobs, and those jobs need to be able to support a home for you and a family,” and
2) “New York must remain a place where working people can get a foothold and afford an apartment while simultaneously raising a family in a community.”
These issues are hardly new. As far back as 1997, the New York City Council was documenting the city’s declining middle class in its report Hollow In The Middle: The Rise and Fall of NYC’s Middle Class. But with renewed leadership and vision in City Hall, we have an opportunity to finally turn these trends around.
We can accomplish these goals, in addition to the mayor’s call for increased MWBE contracting goals and connecting New Yorkers to apprenticeship programs.
First, the only way to create good jobs in construction is by hiring union contractors to meet the city’s housing needs with the 100,000 diverse workforce members they employ. Here is what the Building Trade Employers Association’s (BTEA) union construction industry looks like today:
1) More successful MWBE contractors than any other in New York, with 42% having revenues of $5 million or more and 21% having revenue of $1-5 million.
2) Over 50% of the 100,000 members of the building trade union employed by BTEA contractors are people of color — 30.5% Latino and 21.2% Black, as well as 3% women.
The New York City Economic Development Corporation’s January 2023 economic snapshot report showed there are significant disparities within the labor market in unemployment with the Black unemployment rate at 11%, which is 4 times the rate of white unemployment at 2.8%.
A 2021 study conducted by Urbanomics for the BTEA shows that Black union construction workers earn 36.1% more in wages than Black non-union construction workers. And Latino union construction workers earn 52.7% more in wages than non-union Latino workers.
The BTEA recommends the following:
- Quickly implement the Mayor’s recommendations from his Get Stuff Built report.
- Commit to building quality housing with BTEA contractors and building trade union labor.
- Reduce the cost of construction by eliminating unnecessary hurdles and red tape, like the state’s outdated Scaffolding Law that places exorbitant insurance premiums on builders, especially women and minority contractors.
- Adopt the recommendations of the Mayor’s Capital Process Reform Task Force for public works contracts.
Many of these recommendations will require state legislation and New York City needs the governor and the Legislature to work in partnership to turn these recommendations into reality. Sitting in the same room working toward a common goal, developers, contractors, building trade unions, and community leaders can achieve the mayor’s goals and make New York City affordable and livable again for families.
Let’s rebuild the middle class base that has long been the backbone of this city and make sure the slow hollowing out that has taken place over the last quarter-century is no more.
Louis J. Coletti is president and CEO of the Building Trades Employers’ Association (BTEA).