Descending on Essex Crossing to Make Points About Homelessness and Union Labor

Delancey Street rally, last Wednesday night. Photo: Vocal-NY.

Delancey Street rally, last Wednesday night. Photo: Vocal-NY.
Delancey Street rally, last Wednesday night. Photo: Vocal-NY.

A coalition representing groups that advocate for the homeless, labor unions and other progressive organizations marched from First Houses, the public housing development on East 3rd Street, to Delancey Street last Thursday evening.

The activists held a “sleep out” alongside a portion of Essex Crossing, the 1.9 million sq. ft. housing and retail complex now under construction. Their message to Mayor de Blasio: build new affordable housing in New York to help alleviate the homelessness crisis and do it with union labor.

The event was organized by the “Homes for Every New Yorker” campaign. The action came as the mayor faces a blizzard of negative press coverage about a record high homeless population. Just a few hours earlier, he was spotted in Tompkins Square Park, which the Post is now calling an “encampment for the surging number of city vagrants.”

“Amid growing concern that homelessness is spiraling out of control,” the coalition explained in a press release, “200 advocates and concerned New Yorkers gathered in the Lower East Side to demand that Mayor de Blasio take much bolder action on the crisis and dedicate 15,000 units of real affordable housing to homeless families.”

Groups taking part included: VOCAL-NY, Real Affordability for All, District Council 9: Painters & Allied Trades, Laborers-Employers Cooperation and Education Trust, Laborers Local 79, the Coalition for the Homeless; Community Service Society, Met Council on Housing and Tenants & Neighbors. No local housing groups, such as GOLES, CAAAV or the Cooper Square Committee, were listed on the press release.



Essex Crossing, now rising on the former Seward Park urban renewal site, will include 1,000 new apartments, half of them set aside as “affordable housing.” Community Board 3 and city officials hammered out a compromise years ago, declaring that 300 of those affordable apartments should be for low-income residents and 200 for middle income families. If those apartments were available beginning today, the annual household income requirements for the rentals would range from $34,520-133,765. The activists taking part in last week’s protest argued that the project fails to accommodate the poorest city residents, let alone people who are homeless.

Jennifer Flynn, a leader of VOCAL-NY, said, “We need to build our way our way of this (homeless) crisis, and do it with union labor.” Like most affordable housing projects in New York City, Essex Crossing will not be built exclusively by union workers. It’s an “open shop” site, which means that union and non-union laborers can be hired by contractors and sub-contractors. Union labor was used for demolition/prep work recently completed on several parcels.

essex crossing overview

At a recent community board meeting, project manager Isaac Henderson was asked whether the developers would be paying “prevailing wage” rates to construction workers. He noted that their contract with the city does not require it, but a spokesperson told us last week that a separate agreement guarantees all workers “fair and competitive wages.” Delancey Street Associates, the consortium building Essex Crossing, has designated general contractors for the first phase of construction. They are: Trident Construction (site 1), TG Nickel (site 2), BFC Partners (site 5) and L+M Builders (site 6). L+M and BFC, along with Taconic Investment Partners, are teaming up to develop the former Seward Park site.

When the development plan was unveiled in 2013, City Council member Margaret Chin called on the builders to use union labor. Her spokesperson, Paul Leonard, said last week that Chin stands behind that earlier statement, asserting that Delancey Street Associates “should be paying union wages” and that the Council member would do everything possible to make sure that occurs.

Earlier this year, the developers held workshops for qualified people interested in applying for construction jobs at Essex Crossing and for women and minority-owned firms who were thinking about bidding on portions of the project. In February, Delancey Street Associates, the building workers’ union, 32BJ SEIU, and the Lower East Side Employment Network reached an agreement for up to 80 union jobs within the complex once it is built.

The first phase of construction will include 556 apartments (311 affordable), a 14-screen movie theater, a new home for the Essex Street Market, a full-service grocery store and a cultural facility.