I work at NYCHA (Photo: Demetrius Freeman/Office of the Mayor's Photography)
This article was published in cooperation withnew york focus
When Hurricane Sandy hit New York City in 2012, it hit public housing hard. The Red Hook Houses on the Brooklyn waterfront were without power for weeks. And the recovery has been slow: major renovations didn't start until nearly five years after the storm. When federal dollars finally arrived, however, they represented a huge economic opportunity: more thanWorth $500 million.
"I saw the money as an opportunity for the neighborhood to eat," said Karen Blondel, a longtime resident and tenant attorney for Red Hook Houses. Backing up that pledge was a law known as Section 3, which requires that a portion of the jobs created by federal housing funds go to low-income residents.
But that's not how things turned out. "When I looked out the window at the real workers, none of them lived in public housing," Blondel told New York Focus just before Sandy's 10th birthday.
Data released to federal agencies by the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) confirms their concerns.
annual reportsNYCHA filed with the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) from 2016 to 2020 (obtained by New York Focus via Freedom of Information Request) shows that the agency has often fallen far short of its Section 3 goals, especially when it comes to of construction and renovation work.
"Seeing such a large amount of work and not seeing as many people as I thought should be working or studying was very disappointing," Blondel said of Red Hook's restoration.
By the end of 2020, Section 3 stipulated that "to the extent practicable" at least 30% of NYCHA contract workers should be low-income local residents, with priority given to tenants of public housing. Similar references applied to labor contracts: Section 3 stipulated that at least 10% of construction contracts and 3% of non-construction contracts must go to qualified Section 3 contractors.
A Trump administrationrule changeIn late 2020, it relaxed these criteria, changing the benchmark for all projects to 25% of hours worked and removing the explicit preference for social housing tenants. But for the period covered by the NYCHA reports, the most recent that the agency was able to provide, the above criteria were applied. And the NYCHA has not complied with them in many cases.
From 2016 to 2020, Section 3 companies accounted for no more than 0.3% of NYCHA construction contracts in any given year. NYCHA also fell short of direct contract targets, despite a good start. In 2016 and 2017 he reported about it virtuallynoworkers hired for repairs qualified under Section 3. The following year, as the total number of hires increased, the Section 3 share fell to just 16%. It continued to decline through 2020.
Some tenant representatives say they are not surprised that the NYCHA has not met its goals.
"I think it's a lasting donut," Manny Martinez, president of the South Jamaica Houses Residential Council, said of the agency's Section 3 hiring rate of zero. NYCHA self-reported numbers for construction contracts are consistent with this description.
Martinez has lived in developing southern Jamaica for most of his life and feels that residents like him have been deprived of the economic opportunities promised to them in Section 3. Had the NYCHA met its targets, it would have received nearly $250 million more in resident contracts over the past five years, according to New York Focus's analysis of agency reports.
"That investment alone... would have made these communities very different from what we are today," said Martinez.
New York City Councilwoman Alexa Aviles, chair of the council's public housing committee, said she has heard similar concerns from many residents.
The numbers reported by the NYCHA "are not surprising, but still worrying," he said.
"The mandate is correct," continued Avilés. "Public funds must support the training and hiring of social housing residents... There must be real opportunities that are wasted."
NYCHA said it is taking steps to hire more residents, despite a long list of restrictions.
"NYCHA is committed to providing employment and training opportunities for residents of public housing through the Section 3 initiative and has made several improvements to achieve that goal," spokesperson Nekoro Gomes said via email. "HUD and Federal Monitor recognized the efforts we have made to improve the execution of capital projects, and these steps will serve to increase the capacity of this vital program."
Gomes highlighted the Section 3 rates reported by the NYCHA for daily operations and non-construction contracts, which generally met or exceeded HUD's benchmarks.
But “capital” works, i.e. H. One-off renovations or repairs have been by far the biggest source of new jobs, and numbers reported by the NYCHA suggest that efforts to hire within your own community have dropped down the priority list.
In part, the NYCHA's struggles to keep up with Section 3 reflect another pressing need: a huge and growing backlog of repairs. Entire developments gonediamÖup to weeksno heating or hot water;Candywhichkitchen gas; jYearsno lead fix, dangerous mold and asbestos.
"They're just trying to do what they can to keep the buildings going," said Iziah Thompson, senior policy analyst at the Community Service Society (CSS), a nonprofit advocacy and research organization that generally focuses on the NYCHA. “In an ideal world, you would want them to be providers of housing and job training. But [they] did the housing part first, I think, and I can't blame them for focusing on that."
The sharp decline in the NYCHA Section 3 hiring rate in 2018 reflects, in part, an increase in general hiring, primarily construction workers and builders needed for overdue repairs. Between Sandy's government-funded recovery efforts and general repairs needed under a2019 deal with HUD, NYCHA hired thousands of workers.
That may have led to more repairs, but rarely by the tenants themselves. And jobs remain an equally urgent need for many residents of social housing.
NYCHA developments and its surrounding neighborhoods have some of the highest unemployment rates in the city, turn your backhigher unemploymentthan the country as a whole. In eastern New York and the South Bronx, where NYCHA developments are most concentrated, five-year census estimates put unemployment at 15% or higher. The city average ishalf of it.
Unemployment rates at NYCHA developments can be even higher. CSS's latest full survey of public housing residents, conducted in 2021, found that about 22% were unemployed, with the highest rates among blacks and Latinos.
If Section 3 had been fully implemented when large federal funds came in, the picture would have been very different, said Keith Swiney, president of Section 3 enforcement firm Motivation Inc. and a national legal expert.
"You'd have residents hanging around in Bentleys now," Swiney said.
Section 3 is from the Housing and Urban Development Act 1968, op.cornerstonethe age of civil rights. The Law aimed not only to provide decent housing for low-income people, but also to provide them with jobs in building and maintaining these homes, the main objective enshrined in Section 3.
"Public Works, Not Charities: Black Homes, Black Jobs," headlined an article about the law published in the summer.Common Good Magazineanand reproduced inCongress Registration.
Although Section 3 has been modified in the decades since, its core principle remains the following: Housing authorities and developers receiving federal subsidies must do what they can to ensure that a portion of the jobs created go to low-income residents.
The country never really complied with that principle, Swiney said. Agencies that go beyond the legal mandate are a rare exception. But if anyone is to achieve their goals, he said, it must be NYCHA. As the country's largest public housing company, it has the power to set a national example.
Swiney cautioned that the NYCHA's self-reported numbers should be taken with a pinch of salt: For example, the 100% Section 3 hiring rate reported to HUD in 2016 was likely inflated by accounting errors. On the other hand, the agency may not have actually reported how many of its construction contracts qualify under Section 3 because it lacked the resources to fully track those workers.
But the big picture remains the same: "What these guys haven't achieved is actually a very acceptable level of economic recovery," Swiney said.
Sandy was a good example.At Red Hook, most of the work was for companies like Adam's European Contracting, Inc., a company based in Greenpoint. after atrackerAccording to the NYCHA website, the company has been awarded one of the largest public housing contracts in the past decade ($380 million) for its restoration work in Red Hook and over $900 million in total for NYCHA work since 2013 .
Adam's did not respond to requests for comment. Yourwebsitehighlights that this is a woman-owned business founded and in collaboration with a Polish immigrantcrowd of unionsto supply the workers.
In fact, Section 3 is far from the NYCHA's only contractual criteria. The agency also signed a project employment contract (PLA) with the New York City Building and Building Trade Council (BCTC), which requires contractors to hire nearly all of their workers through union hiring rooms. Martinez, the representative for Queens tenants, said the NYCHA used this as an "excuse" to not bring more of its own residents into the fold.
“If these unions are dictating 100 percent of union requirements, then the union or the contractor has to start making room for these unskilled people to get training,” he said.
Swiney, the councillor, said that historically there has been "a huge conflict" between Section 3 and organized labor.
BCTC President Gary LaBarbera vehemently denied this characterization.
“We don't see the EPL as an obstacle, we see it as an opportunity,” shared LaBarbera via email. “While unions do not hire workers directly, we use the PLA to ensure that all workers in the workplace receive the same wages, benefits and security as any other worker in the same industry.”
LaBarbera emphasized that construction trades worked with the NYCHA to provide residents with training and learning, provide them with a pathway into the middle class, and promote safety in the workplace.
But Martinez said those opportunities are "small". CSS' Thompson agreed that the training opportunities were inadequate, in part because tenant representatives don't have a seat at the table when the NYCHA negotiates collective agreements.
Another hurdle comes from the way the NYCHA handles repairs: typicallylittle by little, where, for example, one case is elevators and the other roofs. This need for skilled workers makes it even more difficult to ensure that training is in sync with job openings.
That could change if the NYCHA makes broader changes, Thompson said.
“There is potential for a large jobs program. The work is obviously there. But you have to put the case together," he said.
IT IScontroversial Conservation FundThe project, approved by state legislatures last year, may offer a test case: It promises some of the first large-scale renovations of NYCHA buildings outside the RAD-PACT system, which transfers buildings to private administration. Even better would be a direct injection of federal funds, Thompson said, but withbetter rebuildlong dead and the Republicans in control of the House of Representatives, you can't count on it anytime soon.
In the meantime, both the city and state must step up efforts to ensure NYCHA residents receive the repairs they need and the jobs that come with them, Aviles said.
"We have to walk and chew gum at the same time," he said. “While we have to prioritize, we have limited resources, we cannot skip one page of the book right over another. Residents deserve both."
This article was published in cooperation withnew york focus
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