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Failure Of Recent Bill Leaves 421-A's Fate As Uncertain As Ever

Uncertainty reigns again in the ongoing 421-a saga, as a replacement bill recently introduced to the New York State Senate looks set to go nowhere and the players involved say there’s still no clear path forward for a solution. 


Earlier this month the so-called 421-aa bill was introduced to the Senate Rules Committee. The bill would’ve largely restored the pre-existing 421-a program but with the addition of a wage requirement for construction workers, similar to the prevailing wage requirements set by the city Comptroller.

A source tells Bisnow a major reason Senate Republicans introduced the bill in the first place was simply to be seen as being proactive on adorable housing by getting a proposal in during the last legislative session.
Building and Construction Trades Council of New York president Gary LaBarbera (snapped above with the NYHMTC's Peter Ward and Tishman Speyer's Rob Speyer) pronounced the bill dead on arrival however, and maintains the wages set in it were far too low to be realistically agreed to by the BCTC.

We found it offensive and out of touch with reality,” Gary tells Bisnow. “I don’t think anyone really expected it to go anywhere. I think they were just trying to stimulate some dialogue.”

The 421-aa bill calls for an aggregate average minimum wage of $55/hour, or roughly $114,000 per year, on projects south of 96th Street in Manhattan with more than 300 apartments units—which would likely account for a relatively small number of the city’s total multifamily projects. 

Elsewhere the wage would be $15/hour—roughly the same as the state’s minimum wage following the passage of April’s minimum wage hike legislation.

“So the bill basically proposed to pay construction workers, who do the most dangerous work in the city, the new minimum wage,” Gary says.

Gary declined to cite a specific number for the prevailing wage the BCTC might accept, but says “it would be higher than $55 an hour—, I can tell you that.”

REBNY's John Banks and James Whelan

REBNY president John Banks (snapped above with REBNY's EVP James Whelan) says the lack of affordable housing remains one of New York’s most pressing issues and that “the new measure would produce even more affordable housing” than its predecessor. 

“Policymakers have a clear choice," John says in an email. "They can choose to prioritize affordable housing production or they can choose to pay a carpenter nearly $200,000 each year to build affordable housing."

"If they choose the latter, there will be less affordable housing built or taxpayers will be asked to pay an exponentially larger tab,” he adds.

Edward Miller, chairman of the Independence Party’s issue committee, which endorsed the 421-aa legislation and circulated a memo praising it, says he’s confident the wage issue will be worked out eventually.

“There’s always going to be arguments over wages with unions, that’s not really anything out of the norm,” he says. “The main issue we’re interested in is affordable housing. I’m sure the wages can be worked out.”

The bill is effectively dead now that the session has ended, and Ed declined to comment on how the issue might be tackled in the next session. Gary floated the idea of Gov. Andrew Cuomo announcing his own plan to resurrect 421-a, but Cuomo has previously denied any plans to go that route.

Gary says the BCTC is open to restarting talks with REBNY again, although they currently have no concrete plans to do so, and are also in “constant contact with lawmakers” in the hopes of finding a legislative solution to the impasse. He says for the BCTC, the discussion over how to replace 421-a basically boils down to the wage issue.

“This bill is based on wage standard,” he says. “So it could certainly begin and end there.”

In other words, we’re right back where we were last January.