Brooklyn Heights

OPINION: Brooklyn Library developer should do more for our community

July 28, 2015 By Alejandro Varela For Brooklyn Daily Eagle
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Year after year, developers come to our communities asking for approval to build bigger, better and taller. 

Last week, Community Board 2 (CB2) in Brooklyn voted to support the Brooklyn Heights Library project which would shrink and renovate the library, add 139 units of market rate condos on-site and 114 affordable housing units off-site. Opponents of the deal argued that this was nothing but a land grab that failed to address the real issues of library underfunding, the need for real affordable housing and school overcrowding in our borough. Several of my pro-deal colleagues (Disclosure: I am a member of CB2) contended that our job was to evaluate the deal as it was, not to solve all of our community’s problems.

I disagree.

If, as a community, we judge each new development based only on the terms presented to us without considering the long-term and cumulative effects on the population, we are missing a valuable opportunity to ensure and protect the public good.

In addition to the affordable housing components and revamped library space, we need verifiable commitments from the developer, The Hudson Companies, Inc., to create good, safe jobs in Brooklyn.

Hudson has thus far agreed to “safeguards to ensure local, safe construction jobs.” This is a vague and unenforceable commitment that doesn’t speak to the quality of these jobs, nor the quality of the permanent maintenance and security jobs this project will create. We need something more specific.

Safe and responsible contractors shouldn’t be an afterthought. Construction work is the most dangerous kind of work. Almost 50 percent of workplace fatalities are attributed to construction — that’s more dangerous than being a police officer. Consider also the burden of being a worker with inadequate pay and benefits. Public health research abounds linking chronic stress (cortisol) and each of the ten deadliest illnesses in the U.S. Now consider the aggregate of each construction site — in CB2, in Brooklyn, in NYC! — that cuts corners when it comes to training and compensation for its workers.

CB2 recommended that the developer enter a community benefits agreement to better address outstanding concerns. This would carry weight if Hudson entered into a legally enforceable agreement with the construction and building services trades. It’s the only way to guarantee good, safe jobs that provide family sustaining wages and benefits, provide training to employees and create a pathway to long-term careers. 

We can’t afford to be short-sighted. An employee not adequately provided for by their employer will depend on public benefits to survive, paid for by taxpayers.

In fact, let’s put an end to the debate about whether hard work deserves fair compensation. The answer is yes. One future solution could be that from the very beginning of a project, during the request for proposal process, we lay out the standards that will benefit our community, including those for labor and housing.

The library project is by no means a done deal: just this week, Councilmember Stephen Levin hinted that he may not support it when it comes before the City Council. But if this development becomes another essential project that Brooklyn can’t live without, requiring the Hudson Companies to commit to good, safe jobs will be just one way to take a sour deal and not make it worse.

—Alejandro Varela lives in Brooklyn and teaches policy advocacy to public health graduate students at Long Island University. He has been a member of Community Board 2 since 2009.


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