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Times-Union: Chorus of construction workers join 421-a debate

By Matthew Hamilton, June 2

Several hundred building trades workers converged on East Capitol Park Tuesday for a heated rally calling for changes to the 421-a tax program.

That program, which offers tax breaks for developers who include a certain percentage of affordable units in their new developments, has become a serious political issue as the end of the legislation session nears. It’s become the latest spat between Gov. Andrew Cuomo and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio as lawmakers try to figure out if they’ll address the soon-to-expire program at the same time they address New York City’s rent regulations.

(Currently, the two programs are linked because they were passed together in the 2011 rent regulations approved by state lawmakers.)

The labor union side of the debate is calling for prevailing wage provisions to be included in whatever version of the 421-a program is approved.

On Monday, Assembly Housing Chair Keith Wright introduced a new 421-a bill that includes prevailing wage provisions. At the rally, Wright called for proper MWBE provisions in 421-a regulations as well.

Wright’s bill includes provisions for 20 percent affordable units in developments that take advantage of the program.

“You cannot have just a city of rich folks,” Wright told the crowd. “I live in the same rent-stabilized apartment that I grew up in. I’m 60 years old. Only way they’re getting me out of that apartment is in a casket. … I ain’t going anywhere.”

Assemblyman Richard Gottfried said both the debate about rent laws and the debate about 421-a are about working families.

“The people that are buying the $90-million penthouses and apartments on 57th Street do not need our help,” he told the crowd. “The developers who are making hundreds of millions of dollars off of those buildings … they don’t need our help. The people that we need to be focused on is you and working people all across this state.”

As unions run ads calling for the prevailing wage provisions, an industry trade group with members that include the Real Estate Board of New York, which supports 421-a, is running an ad that claims “special interests are pushing a deceptive wage bill.”