A house of cards, this idea

Crain’s New York takes the New York City Council to task for wasting taxpayer money in order to help the union bosses:

In New York’s City Council, few causes get higher priority than organized labor. But one that usually does is affordable housing. Elected officials receive more constituent calls and emails about housing than anything else, so when union-backed wage bills snake their way through City Hall, affordable housing is inevitably exempted. It doesn’t take a mathematician to figure out that when union labor adds 30% or more to construction costs, the result is fewer affordable units, higher rents, or both.

That’s why affordable-housing developers were shocked this month when Councilwoman Letitia James suddenly began demanding “prevailing wages” for workers who would build affordable housing for a mixed-use development involving three cultural institutions in her Brooklyn district. The project hinges on a council vote scheduled for Monday.

 Several Democratic mayoral candidates have endorsed this effort, parroting the lame line that special deals called project labor agreements, or PLAs, could hand affordable-housing construction to unions without reducing the number of units built. But PLAs often save less money than expected, and sometimes none at all. Moreover, many of the trade unions that would be needed for these projects want no part of PLAs.

 The candidates have also said subsidized housing has been shoddily built, pointing to anecdotal examples. Weaving a broad fiction out of isolated cases is a dangerous way to make policy. The facts are, nonunion-built affordable housing across the city has held up nicely, and some union-built affordable housing has been plagued by problems.

Affordable-housing construction is employing minority workers at good wages in their own communities, and providing more units than union-built projects could. This model must not be undermined by election-season politics.