In my nearly three decades as a labor leader, I have seen time and time again the opportunity that development creates in New York. Whether it’s public dollars or private investments leading to development, when done right, they can drive economic activity in almost any sector and a boon to culture and well-being. be hundreds of neighborhoods and millions of city residents.
Still, it’s clear that some unfortunate development misunderstandings have muddyed the waters and created mistrust between developers and communities. At first, this anti-development sentiment seemed to be the result of historic city-wide economic growth rippling through all five boroughs pre-COVID, but then when it lingered in the pandemic and stifled projects that would have resulted in thousands of construction jobs. jobs, millions of dollars in community benefits, and tens of thousands of long-term jobs at a time when New York City needed them most, it became clear that the root causes of this distrust lay deeper.
As we emerge from the pandemic and seek to keep our city’s economy and future on track, it’s critical that those skeptical of development recognize the important role it can and will play in the days , months and years to come.
Development is the main generator of middle-class careers in the city’s unionized construction industry. By creating reliable and honest work for our members, Development Projects help ensure that the city is not just a playground for the rich, but a place where working New Yorkers can lift themselves out of poverty. , build a career for themselves and their families, and contribute to the betterment of the community around them.
This is a particularly important factor when looking at the workers who make up the city’s unionized construction workforce. According to a 2017 study by the Economic Policy Institute, the majority of unionized construction workers in the city were black and Hispanic. The same study also found that 61% of unionized apprentices at the time were minority workers, meaning that since then the number of workers of color in the unionized ranks of the construction industry has not increased. only increases. Without development, these workers have no jobs and are not paid. With development, these workers earn middle-class wages that are reinvested directly into New York communities, supporting small businesses and retailers, and creating economic vitality in neighborhoods.
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It’s not just members of New York’s building trades who are benefiting from the development. Our union brothers and sisters in 32BJ stand to benefit from the long-term jobs in construction services created by development; revenue is generated for the city’s public school system, benefiting our students and the exceptional educators represented by our friends at the United Federation of Teachers; and more and more customers frequent the small businesses and retailers in the neighborhood where members of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union and the United Food and Commercial Workers Union work. The list continues.
Yet despite the benefits development brings, there are still elected officials and policymakers who take offense to it, suggesting that every step forward necessarily brings gentrification and pressures that make it harder for New Yorkers today today to afford their city. There are lawmakers who consider themselves progressive but block forward-looking development projects that would invest in New York’s working class.
I am convinced that some of those who oppose development do so in good faith. I look forward to sitting down with them to hear their concerns and find common ground. However, I fear that many elected officials who oppose and suppress development know better. That instead of working to help develop community development plans that meet the needs of their neighborhoods, they knowingly sow dissent to advance their own political prerogatives by appeasing a small but vocal contingent of anti-development activists who s oppose any development whatsoever. merits.
In my opinion, construction is anchored in the DNA of this city. Development and construction embody the history of New York City, as do the members of the Building and Construction Trades Council that I represent.
There are, of course, some developers who don’t reflect New York in its best light, who prioritize their bottom line over workers and the communities in which they work. I will be the first to oppose their corrupt plans and ambitions. But the vast majority of those I’ve worked with in the New York real estate community care about the future of the city. They want the projects our members build to be the cornerstone of the community around them.
When done right and built together, development projects create outsized benefits for this city. As we seek to turn the corner from the pandemic and the economic crisis it has created, it is essential that our elected officials, leaders and communities have honest conversations about the development plans that are – and will soon be – advanced. It’s time we lead with facts, not fear.
LaBarbera is the chairman of the New York City and New York State Building and Construction Trades Council.