Teamsters Local 237

Only Government Funding Can Save Public Housing

altNew York City’s attempts to sell New York City Housing Authority properties to private developers should be a concern to all New Yorker’s. On Tuesday, February 10th, I testified before the New York City Council Committee on Public Housing regarding a deal NYCHA made with the City of New York to sell fifty percent stakes in six housing projects to private developers L+M Development Partners and BFC Partners. These stakes include 875 federally subsidized apartments, and the private developers have a history of anti-worker activities and suing tenants. 

While such privatization is disturbing, I have a greater concern. For years, all levels of government have neglected affordable housing for low-income and middle-class residents. Government has not provided proper funding to improve conditions and expand affordable housing for those that need it most. Rent in our beloved city has skyrocketed to the point where low-income and middle-class residents alike live from paycheck to paycheck just to afford a decent household. This is the sad reality.

NYCHA and the Federal Section 8 program are key elements of affordable housing in New York City. The City Council appropriated $10 million annually over the last several years to help undo a massive repair backlog at many NYCHA properties brought about by bureaucratic mismanagement. Mayor Bill de Blasio recently added $72.5 million to NYCHA’s budget to pay for patrols by the New York Police Department at the city’s public houses. These are all important initiatives for which we are grateful.

However, affordable housing requires sustained attention from all levels of government. The time is long overdue for the Federal and State governments to step up and provide adequate funding for this key asset.

As president of Teamsters Local 237, I represent more than 20,000 public employees, including about 8,000 NYCHA workers, one third of which are also NYCHA residents. These workers know, first hand, the challenges of maintaining America’s largest and oldest public housing system.  They keep NYCHA operating day after day with limited resources, unsure funding, and expired labor agreements. This deal with private developers will impact many of our members and I fear it will have a chilling effect on the longtime efforts of elected officials and labor leaders to communicate and cooperate with NYCHA.

First, the Authority did not discuss its plans with us prior to implementing the deal.  If there is one lesson we have all learned over the years, it is that our input is important for the success of the Authority. As representatives for NYCHA workers, we understand the problems and can design solutions constructively, creatively, and collaboratively. Had the Authority talked to us about selling the stakes, we would have explored having NYCHA manage the six facilities instead of turning them over to a new outside company, which may focus on deeper cost cuts. Our workforce is best when they are provided adequate manpower and resources.

Second, we have indicated to the Authority that they have violated Local Law 63. This law establishes a set of procedures that must be followed should our workforce be replaced by private contractors. 

Finally, I would like to raise a cautionary note. There are some who see this deal as a step towards broader privatization. It is my hope that this is not the case, and I am optimistic that the City Council will fight to make sure this does not happen.  I believe the City Council will have New York City’s best interest in mind and will continue to protect affordable housing, an asset of the city that is so fundamental to our survival.

Local 237 is committed to protecting the nation’s largest stock of public housing and to advocate for more resources to expand affordable housing, which every New Yorker deserves.  NYCHA property belongs to the City and its people: not the bureaucrats and privatizers. We will fight to protect the jobs of Local 237 workers throughout any deals that the City of New York makes regarding ownership of NYCHA properties, and we will continue to fight for safe working conditions and decent wages for all our workers.

Oral History Project

Hercules Cornish: Caretaker J Stores Man

Herclules CornishHercules Cornish went to work for the Housing Authority as a caretaker J in 1952 and retired 24 years later as a stores worker. He died the year following this interview, which was conducted in June 1999.

Originally I was from Harlem, but when I came out of the service in 1945 my wife had moved to the Bronx, so I moved there, too. I went to work for the New York City Housing Authority in 1952.

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