Opinion: To Truly Address Affordability, Subsidized Housing Must Pay Decent Wages

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HPD buildings

Buildings with units currently on offer through the city's affordable-housing lottery.

When I was homeless, living in the subway, it was an affordable housing apartment and a good, prevailing wage job that saved my life. Having a place I could call my own and a job with a living wage and benefits got me off the streets and into a life where I could raise my son with the stability every child deserves. That’s why it’s so important to build more affordable housing for the thousands of New Yorkers who need it, while also creating good jobs that allow the workers who keep these projects safe and clean to avoid the fate I faced.

The New York City Council now has an opportunity to do just that with Intro 1321, a bill that will require prevailing wages—a set of high-road requirements for hourly wages, health and benefit retirements—for new affordable housing developments and rehab projects paid for with city dollars.

When I came to New York City from the Dominican Republic, I worked hard, but with a low-wage job and no benefits, I struggled to make ends meet. I was eventually unable to pay all my bills and I lost my apartment. Desperate, I lived in the subway and sent my six-month-old son to live with my mother in the Dominican Republic while I got myself back on my feet. I eventually got an affordable housing unit and found a job as a commercial building cleaner making the prevailing wage thanks to a contract with my union, 32BJ SEIU.

With my good paycheck, I was finally able to bring my son back and fully support him. But, in the five years it took me to find a decent job, I missed my son’s first steps; I missed his first words and I missed the opportunity to give him the consistent love of a mother that he deserved.

I don’t want any other New Yorker to have to struggle like my son and I did. That’s why I’ve been advocating for Intro 1321. As the city implements its plan to build and preserve 300,000 much needed affordable housing apartments, workers like me are fighting to raise standards for the thousands of workers at these buildings—many of which are located in low-income communities of color like mine.


A different view:
Opinion: Prevailing Wage Bill for Building Workers Would Harm Affordable Housing Efforts


I know that the good wages and benefits that would be required by this bill can save people’s lives because they saved mine. I also know, from living in affordable housing myself, that the men and women who are responsible for maintenance work hard to provide a good living environment for residents. They deserve to be able to provide for themselves in return.

I benefited from living in affordable housing, but affordable housing alone was not enough to change my life, I also needed a good job. The City Council continues to lead and win for working families and now it has the opportunity to ensure that our affordable housing investments bring the stability and dignity of good-paying jobs to thousands of New Yorkers. Let’s pass intro 1321. The time to act is now.

Yenni Hernandez is an office cleaner in New York City.

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