Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Moment of cognitive dissonance: how "public" is AY?

A New York Times article today on a bill requiring developers to pay construction workers the union-level prevailing wage has drawn opposition from some providers of affordable housing, saying it will raise costs on smaller projects.

That issue came up Friday at the state Senate oversight hearing, when a union leader commented that non-union labor allowed for organizations like the Fifth Avenue Committee to produce housing less expensively than at Atlantic Yards. (I haven't seen a full accounting of the cost difference.)

AY as example

The bill's sponsor, Assemblywoman Susan V. John of Rochester, chosen an interesting example to prove her point:
Assemblywoman John said developments such as Atlantic Yards in Brooklyn, a residential and commercial project for which the city and the state have agreed to provide subsidies, were clearly public works. “I do believe that it’s important that we uphold the provisions of our State Constitution that say that when we’re spending tax money, people are paid prevailing wage,” she said.

It's an interesting example. Sure, there's an argument that, if public subsidies are used, they should go to prevailing wage jobs, especially on a large project.

At the same time, if we're going to call Atlantic Yards a "public work," shouldn't the public, for example, have a little more input on the configuration of affordable housing, rather than let Forest City Ratner and its partner ACORN (in hock to the developer) make the call? And shouldn't there be a little more public oversight?

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