photo via NYCHA
In following the news over the past years, it has become readily apparent that the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) must either be severely underfunded or grossly mismanaged. Unfortunately it's the latter.
There is no shortage of issues that have come up that demonstrate the ineptitude of NYCHA leadership. From failing to protect residents in advance of Hurricane Sandy to toxic molds to turning on the heat only if it gets to 25 degrees, NYCHA is failing its residents. To say that NYCHA is mismanaged and wasting our tax money is an understatement. Officials are throwing it away, literally - NYCHA actually recently threw away $550,000 of new supplies that were purchased but determined to not be useful.
But wasteful spending doesn't end there. NYCHA attaches Project Labor Agreements (PLAs) to all of their rehab and construction projects. These costly provisions mandate that a vast majority of workers come from the union halls, leading to fewer contractors bidding on the work and diminished competition.
Officials agree to these provisions even though studies show PLAs increase construction costs up to 30 percent. These additional costs come from reduced competition and antiquated jurisdictional work rules that prevent efficiencies. At a time when Mayor de Blasio has taken a stand for increased affordable housing in New York City by standing up to the powerful trades unions and telling them that they've out-priced themselves, NYCHA is acquiescing to their every demand, to the detriment of taxpayers and tenants alike.
An increasing amount of work is being done throughout New York City by merit shop contractors, and with good reason. These men and women have found innovative ways to build the best projects in efficient, cost-effective ways, while still taking great care of their employees. Go to any private job site today and you will more than likely see a diverse group of professionals working together as a team to get the job done. There is no bickering among differing trades as to whose responsibility it is to do key tasks like you see on public or taxpayer funded job sites.
Unfortunately, while these advancements have made construction better and cheaper, our union counterparts have been left behind, instead being forced to rely on their political influence to get publicly funded work such as at NYCHA. But as more and more of the general public is becoming aware of how this impacts their wallets and how much farther their dollar could go, this is changing too.
These changes have spurred the unfortunate rhetoric and baseless claims from union bosses who see their empires slipping away.
Imagine how much work could get done with 30 percent more capital to work with? Maybe those elevators could finally get fixed or the mold would finally be eradicated. Perhaps NYCHA could be more prepared for a disaster. And what if, not to be too bold, NYCHA could actually turn the heat on before it hits 25 degrees?
As a public authority, NYCHA has a fiduciary responsibility to the taxpayers of this city. This should encourage its leaders to stretch tax dollars as far as they can to get the most bang for the buck. They also have a moral obligation to the tenants of their housing. This means they should do everything they can to get the best housing available at the most competitive pricing - making more housing available to those who need it.
NYCHA needs to be cleaned up, and the corruption and mismanagement that have plagued the tenants and taxpayers of New York City needs to be addressed. The process by which NYCHA officials spend hundreds of millions of tax dollars is a start.
Our message to NYCHA is clear: while you've gotten used to throwing our money away, you owe it to taxpayers and tenants to open bids up, create competition, and get the most bang for our buck.
Brian Sampson is the President of the Associated Builders and Contractors, Empire State Chapter. The Association was founded on the shared belief that construction projects should be awarded on merit to the most qualified and responsible low bidders. The Chapter represents nearly 400 members in the construction industry throughout NYS.