BUILDING BLOCKED NYCHA RESIDENTS WANT THEIR JOBS

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One year after a coalition of community groups, trade unions and public housing residents signed a historic agreement with the New York City Housing Authority to make way for the hiring of public housing residents on the agency’s construction sites, the authority still has not put tenants to work.

Members of the coalition, known as Trade Unions & Residents for Apprenticeship Development (TRADES), are now asking the City Council to compel NYCHA to live up to its agreement. Brooklyn Councilmember Diana Reyna, who chairs the subcommittee on public housing, will be holding a public hearing on June 9 on the agreement. The goals of the hearing are twofold, said Reyna’s chief of staff, Karl Camillucci: “Number one, it’s to educate tenants about the pre-apprenticeship program, and, two, to come up with a way that satisfies everyone’s interest in having the program move along to meet its objectives.”

Under the agreement, between 200 and 250 residents were to be hired on five major construction projects set to begin this year. The projects, known collectively as the Construction/Manager Build program, or CM/Build, total $500 million and will include the renovation of housing projects and the construction of community and day care centers. As part of the agreement, NYCHA pledged to put out a request for proposals for a company to train residents for “pre-apprenticeship” programs in construction unions.

So far, say TRADES members, work is set to begin on the first of the five projects, at the Ocean Bay houses in Far Rockaway, but NYCHA has still not yet released the request for proposals. “They keep saying the RFP is ‘stuck in legal,'” said Nicole Branca, the spokesperson for TRADES, which is a partnership of four trade unions, including Laborers Local 79, New York City District Council of Carpenters, International Union of Painters and Allied Trades District Council 9, and Plumbers Local Union 1, along with numerous community-based housing, labor and legal advocacy organizations. Under Section 3 of the 1968 Federal Housing Act, when federal dollars are spent to renovate or build public housing, housing authorities and their contractors must make a strong effort to hire and train residents to fill the jobs generated.

That, say TRADES members, has never happened in a consistent fashion. According to Branca, in 2002, less than 1 percent of jobs on NYCHA construction projects went to residents of public housing—a figure that a source inside the construction division of the Housing Authority says sounds about right.

Howard Marder, a spokesperson for the Housing Authority, said he did not know how many residents had been placed in construction jobs on NYCHA work sites. There are roughly 420,000 residents in all, almost half of whom are seniors or minors.

But Marder dismissed concerns about the delays. “The RFP is going out shortly,” he said. “Everything is coming into place. These things don’t happen overnight. The CM/Build is huge. The pre-apprenticeship is one part. It will be in effect. It will be wonderful. We are moving forward.”

Until then, however, Branca said TRADES participants are perplexed about what to do: “The contractors have to have apprentices in the apprenticeship programs. The unions have talked to the community groups, and I have been going to tenant meetings promising these opportunities. We no longer know what to tell them.”