Tip Sheets

Bargaining impasse seems to be holding affordable housing initiative ‘hostage’

Media Contact

Kaitlyn Serrao

Following the failure of an attempt to advance affordable housing policies in Albany last year, state lawmakers are struggling to revitalize the effort as part of this year’s delayed budget. But it is stalled because the real estate industry and labor unions have been unable to negotiate an acceptable wage rate for the construction workers who would build affordable units

Jeffrey Grabelsky

Co-Director of the National Labor Leadership Institute

Jeffrey Grabelsky, co-director of the National Labor Leadership Institute at Cornell University, is an expert on building and construction trades unions.

Grabelsky says:

“There are at least three competing interests with skin in this game. Low-income tenants and housing advocates want as many units constructed as possible to address the paucity of affordable housing. Landlords and the real estate industry want to minimize construction costs and maximize tax incentives to profitably build affordable housing. Building trades unions and their members want decent labor standards attached to affordable housing tax breaks to ensure that workers who build affordable units earn family-supporting middle-class wages.

“Construction unionists are largely united in their position that any tax incentives or affordable housing programs prioritize the needs and interests of tenants and workers over those of the real estate industry. Because the governor and legislative leaders have deferred to the unions – coordinated by the Building and Construction Trades Council of Greater New York (BCTC) and led by Gary LaBarbera – and the real estate industry – led by REBNY (Real Estate Board of New York) – to strike a wage deal, an affordable housing initiative is currently hostage to what appears to be a bargaining impasse.

 “A significant majority of the approximately 100,000 unionized construction workers represented by the BCTC reside in the city’s five boroughs. Like most working-class New Yorkers, they face the high cost of housing and understand the importance of decent union wages to make their own ends meet and to have a thriving middle-class with sufficient income to drive the city’s economy.

“Union leaders are encouraging state legislators to exercise more influence on the ongoing negotiations between unions and REBNY to reach an agreement on adequate wage levels for affordable housing in NYC. This would be the necessary breakthrough to move an effective affordable housing program.” 

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