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Build Bridge to Good Bronx Jobs: Future Kingsbridge Armory Workers Deserve a Living Wage
NY Daily News
Errol Louis

November 19, 2009
View the Original Article


The pitched battle over how, when and whether to develop the Kingsbridge armory in the Bronx brings New York City to a crossroads.

Either we commit to fighting for jobs that pay a decent, living wage, or we watch an ever-larger section of our populace take a slow tumble into a life of working full-time for poverty pay.

The Kingsbridge fight throws these matters into sharp relief. The deal, currently awaiting action by the City Council, calls for a private developer, the Related Cos., to get $17 million in tax incentives on top of $25 million the city has already spent to fix up the dilapidated facility.

In exchange for the $42 million in public benefits, Related wants to buy the armory for $5 million, then round up another $300 million or so to convert the 500,000-square-foot site into a mall and recreation center.

The project would create around 1,000 construction jobs and 1,200 retail jobs.

The sticking point is a longstanding demand by local residents and elected officials that Related commit to requiring all commercial tenants at the site to pay a living wage of at least $10 an hour plus benefits, or $11.50 if no benefits are included.

Related - backed by high-ranking city officials up to and including Mayor Bloomberg - says asking possible tenants to pay employees at least $400 a week for full-time work is a deal-breaker because companies won't agree to rent space if they have to pay $10 an hour.

"The city is not in the business of guaranteeing people's wages, and in private development, we shouldn't be," said Bloomberg.

But this deal stopped being "private development" when the city committed $42 million in repairs and incentives. And it does guarantee people's wages - in the worst possible way.

Giving tens of millions in assistance to Related without demanding a reasonable base wage would guarantee that many of the resulting jobs would pay less than many New Yorkers need to afford living in this city.

Some jobs would be at the minimum wage of $7.25 an hour. That's $290 a week for full-time work. Before taxes.

Enough. Time and again, residents around the city are supposed to look the other way while bureaucrats and businessmen swap public money for crummy jobs that leave full-time workers using food stamps, soup kitchens and other welfare to survive.

The lawyers and paper-pushers who cut these deals hold grip-and-grin press conferences, congratulating one another on how "creative" they had to be to strike the final bargain. As if underpaying security guards and stockroom clerks were akin to composing a symphony on a bar napkin.

New Yorkers have wised up to this immoral foolishness. The Kingsbridge Armory Redevelopment Alliance, a coalition of community groups and unions, is calling Related's bluff, indicating they would rather have no deal than a guarantee of misery.

"The Bronx has the highest poverty rate of any urban county in the United States," Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr., said in testimony to the Council this week. "It is time to demand that developers do better."

Damn straight. Let the "creative" geniuses figure out a new business model - one that doesn't depend on making sure working poor households stay poor.

Let all the hand-wringing over the possibility of businesses leaving New York be matched by more concern about 150,000 people who move out of the city each year. Let us talk about why so many of the record 39,000 people living in city homeless shelters actually hold full-time jobs.

Not only should Bloomberg and the Council support the community alliance, they should put living wage requirements in all city projects that receive significant public benefits, the way cities like San Francisco and Santa Fe, N.M., have already done.

That would be real creativity of the kind our city needs.