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(Opinion) NYCHA Tenant Leader Urges Approval of Union Square Tech Training Center

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Rendering of new Union Square Tech Hub. Image via NYC EDC.
Rendering of new Union Square Tech Hub. Image via NYC EDC.

The New York City Council’s Zoning & Franchises Subcommittee has scheduled a vote today on the Union Square Tech Training Center. The 21-story proposed complex on a parcel that once housed a P.C. Richard & Son store is controversial. While many people in the community believe it would bring new opportunities to low-income youth, others are adamantly opposed if the city doesn’t agree to zoning protections in the immediate area.

The following opinion piece was written by Aixa Torrres, president of the tenant association at the Alfred E. Smith Houses. The Lo-Down accepts unsolicited op/ed submissions relevant to the Lower East Side community. They do not reflect the editorial position of The Lo-Down, but only the viewpoints of each individual author. To submit an editorial/letter to the editor, use the following email: info@thelodownny.com.

Over the years, I and my longtime neighbors at the Alfred E. Smith Houses on the Lower East Side have witnessed the transformation of our neighborhood. We watched 1 Police Plaza be built, lived through the dark days after 9/11, survived Hurricane Sandy, and saw the Lower East Side change from a working-class neighborhood into a tourist destination.

Right now, we are witnessing another transformation: the change of the local economy. Tech companies are making up more and more of the economy. We no longer want to witness history—we want to be a part of it, and find jobs in this rapidly-growing industry.

However, the reality is that too many Alfred E. Smith residents simply don’t have access to the training or skills needed to land a job in the tech sector. The nearby Union Square Tech Training Center will help us close this gap by offering affordable training to our residents and providing access to good-paying jobs in the innovation space. These opportunities should be available to all New Yorkers to help level the economic playing field.

I know firsthand how impactful high-level tech training can be. A few years ago, my middle-aged son, also a resident of the Alfred E. Smith Houses, found himself unemployed. In order to find a good-paying job, he knew he needed to learn marketable technical skills. Fortunately, he heard about a Bronx-based program called Per Scholas, which offers free IT training courses. These classes changed the trajectory of my son’s life. Instead of sitting home trying to search for a job, he is thriving in a quality IT job.

But from the Alfred E. Smith Houses, the road to Per Scholas was long—literally. Often, my son’s commute from the Lower East Side would take close to two hours.

This grueling trek makes it impossible for many Alfred E. Smith residents, many of whom have part-time jobs and families for which they need to provide. But the need for tech training in our community has never been stronger. Most residents at Alfred E. Smith Houses don’t have personal computers. Instead, we rely on two outdated desktops in our tenant association offices, and only a few computers at the public library. Our local schools only have capacity for one or two computer classrooms, stretching their resources across hundreds of students.

We need new, modern resources to give our community the opportunity to join the tech sector.

The Union Square Tech Training Center will bring accessible IT courses less than twenty minutes from our community. It will offer IT classes from great organizations like Per Scholas, Fedcap, and AccessCode, and connect training programs with tech companies that are growing and hiring within the building.

These kinds of opportunities haven’t been available to communities like ours. But with the Union Square Tech Training Center, jobs that once felt out of reach could become realities for countless Alfred E. Smith residents. I have seen firsthand how workforce development can change a life. It’s time more New Yorkers have that opportunity. I look forward to the day when this much-needed institution opens its doors and empowers more New Yorkers to reach their full potential.

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