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Prevailing Wage Bill Will Hurt New Yorkers In Need of Affordable Housing

Deborah VanAmerongen, Rick Higgins, Judy Calogero, Brian Lawlor and Darryl Towns, Wed, Mar 13th, 2019 3:59:01 am
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Prevailing wage bill will hurt New Yorkers in need of affordable housing (Commentary)
Today 7:22 AM

By Special to Syracuse.com

Deborah VanAmerongen, Rick Higgins, Judy Calogero, Brian Lawlor and Darryl Towns are all former commissioners of New York State Homes and Community Renewal (HCR). See below for their current affiliations.

By Deborah VanAmerongen, Rick Higgins, Judy Calogero, Brian Lawlor and Darryl Towns

New York's housing affordability crisis is not just a New York City issue – it is a statewide challenge that we must work collaboratively to address. The need for affordable housing continues to grow nationwide and statewide. And while housing experts in New York City have already raised the alarm about the impact of new state legislative proposals on the future of affordable housing, the reality is that those same concerns exist outside the city too – on Long Island and Upstate, as well.

More than half of renters in Nassau, Erie, Onondaga and Monroe Counties – just to name a few – are struggling to afford to stay in their homes. More affordable housing is needed throughout all corners of our state – and it is needed now.

That is why we, in our capacity as former commissioners of New York State Homes and Community Renewal (HCR), are urging the state Legislature to reject a bill that would expand the definition of public works to include many private construction projects statewide, including affordable housing. This bill (S.1947/A.1261) would result in significant, unnecessary increases in construction costs across New York and stop tens of thousands of affordable homes from being built over the coming years.

It is already very difficult to build and preserve housing for low- and middle-income families and seniors in New York due to rising construction costs, which means that these projects typically rely on tax incentives or public subsidies to move forward. Our state must take great care to manage costs on affordable housing developments, as any potential increases can prevent projects in the pipeline from ever getting off the ground.

In that regard, the public works legislation is so concerning because it would expand construction prevailing wage mandates to include private projects that receive public subsidies or incentives, which means that virtually all planned affordable housing projects across the state would be covered by the new requirement.

Studies show that new prevailing wage mandates would increase construction costs by nearly 25 percent. That is significant enough to offset or exceed any public financial assistance those projects receive, leaving them back at square one and simply not feasible.

If it becomes impossible to building new affordable housing projects, tens of thousands of families and seniors – not just Downstate, but Upstate, too – will be paying the price.

The silver lining here is that the Legislature already worked with Gov. Andrew Cuomo to provide $2.5 billion to build and preserve affordable housing, as part of the governor's unprecedented $20 billion, five-year plan to address the statewide housing and homelessness crisis. The initiative is already bearing fruit, with thousands of affordable units built or in the pipeline.

But that effort will not achieve its goals if the Legislature passes an expansion of prevailing wage requirements and undermines its own plans and makes it harder than ever to finance and build much-needed housing for low- and middle-income families and seniors.

When it comes to our shared mission of providing housing for all, we must move forward, not backward. That means recognizing the grave risks posed by new prevailing wage legislation, rejecting the bill and finding a better path forward for all New Yorkers.

Current affiliations for the former HCR commissioners: Rick Higgins works with Norstar Development. Deborah VanAmerongen is a consultant with Nixon Peabody. Brian Lawlor is a consultant with Mazzotta, Sherwood and Vagianelis. Judy Calogero is a consultant with Calogero Partners. Darryl Towns works for American Airlines. The views expressed are those of the individuals who wrote it and do not represent the views of the firm of Nixon Peabody.


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