Mayor Bill de Blasio’s announcement this week that New York City financed or preserved more than 30,000 affordable homes in 2020 would be a noteworthy accomplishment in any year: it represents the second-highest total in the history of the city.
Place the achievement into the context of the coronavirus pandemic, the economic fallout it has caused and the physical toll it has taken, however, and it becomes nothing short of remarkable.
While the city officials and policymakers who helped make this progress possible deserve praise, we should not overlook the efforts of the affordable housing industry – specifically the hardworking construction workers – who made reaching this significant milestone possible. The New York State Association for Affordable Housing congratulates our many members who helped make a dent in New York City’s housing affordability crisis in the face of these unprecedented challenges.
From the outset of the pandemic, the industry stepped up and made work sites as safe as possible by implementing temperature checks, mandating social distancing, and organizing new cleaning protocols. These protections helped thousands of construction workers on affordable housing sites, who were designated essential in March, safely build projects that delivered better lives for New Yorkers across the five boroughs.
Consider that the Linwood Park Apartments in Brooklyn, which won a NYSAFAH 2020 Downstate Project of the Year award, was able to open on time – far from a given in normal circumstances, and even more so in the current climate. That project, the first affordable building to open in East New York since its 2016 rezoning, is a green building with energy efficient appliances and fixtures. It delivered 100 units of affordable housing, including 30 units of supportive housing for formerly homeless families. This is just one example of the many transformative projects that came on-line throughout 2020.
Of course, we can and must do more. The pandemic has dragged on longer than any of us could have possibly imagined, and it is critical that we do not lose momentum in addressing the housing crisis that has been exacerbated over the past year.
Millions of households across New York City are counting on our industry to continue delivering projects on time and conceive of new and innovative ways to meet their housing needs. One way to ensure that we can do so would be to classify affordable housing construction workers in New York State’s 1B vaccination program, providing them with physical protection and peace of mind as they travel to jobsites around the city, day in and day out.
The Center for Disease Control (CDC) has recommended that construction workers be placed just behind grocery workers in vaccine prioritization – and given that grocery workers can already receive vaccinations in New York, it is both fair and appropriate for workers in our industry to begin receiving them as well.
Of course, we recognize that there is a limited supply of vaccines available at the moment – something the Biden administration thankfully is starting to change. Vulnerable populations should continue to be first in line for the vaccine, but we also should not forget that our workers are building housing that will benefit those same populations. What’s more, many workers are themselves Black or Brown and therefore more prone to both catching and dying from COVID-19.
The last year has presented us with obstacles, the likes of which we, as a society, have never seen in modern times. But the affordable housing industry has demonstrated time and again its perseverance and dedication. This week’s announcement showed that – and now the time has come to repay our workers by providing them with the peace of mind that only a vaccine can provide.