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Don't Let Armory Developer Bury Us in Poverty-Wage Jobs
NY Daily News
Don't Let Armory Developer Bury Us in Poverty-Wage

August 25, 2009
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Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz will soon announce whether he is going to support The Related Companies' application to redevelop the Kingsbridge Armory.

As a state assemblyman, Diaz was a champion for working families. Through his "One Bronx" vision, he is continuing this tradition as borough president.

The redevelopment of the landmark armory is the first test of his resolve to deliver real benefits to Bronx residents.

To succeed in improving the lives of working people and building a better Bronx, Diaz must persuade the developer, The Related Cos., to sign a Community Benefits Agreement for the development of the armory, one that goes beyond the much maligned CBAs of his predecessor at Gateway Mall and Yankee Stadium, which have failed to produce promised benefits to the surrounding communities.

Unfortunately, Related's application for the purchase of the historic armory falls far short of these goals. Among the shortcomings, the developer's plans call for the creation of 1,200 30-hour-a-week, part-time, no-benefit, poverty-wage jobs.

As a minister in the community, I know the devastating toll low-wage, part-time work takes on our families and community.

One of my congregants, Pauline, was working one of these 30-hour-a-week, no benefit jobs and struggling to make ends meet. She knew she needed to get a second job, but she worried about the effect on her two teenagers, who would be left alone in the evenings. But finally, she had no choice but to take the second job to pay the rising rent.

Sure enough, within a few weeks, her son got caught up with a group of kids in the neighborhood and ended up being arrested for robbery. Her daughter fell behind in her schoolwork and became disruptive in class.

This is the legacy of poverty-wage jobs in a community where 40% are already paying more than half of their income on rent.

We can, and must, do better.

The Related Cos. plan for the "Shops at the Armory" mall has the potential to become the' economic engine of the northwest Bronx. This will only happen if they agree to all enforceable, transparent CBA that delivers on the promise of good jobs for local residents, new retailers that complement existing ones, recreation and community space and new schools.

That is why the Kingsbridge Armory Redevelopment Alliance, which represents the community, clergy, small business and labor, will not support Related's plans in their current form.

The redevelopment of the armory is a public project. Our elected officials have a duty to protect the public's interest.

Related has already received promises of $90 million in public financing through tax credits and repairs to the building.

Related's current plan cannot be supported unless, and until, they agree to a CBA with living-wage jobs, local hiring by retailers who occupy the armory and the freedom to join a union without fear of threat or intimidation.

A New York City living wage is defined as $10 an hour with health benefits or $11.50 without benefits.

Other issues must be dealt with as well.

Severe traffic congestion already exists around Kingsbridge Road. More traffic will create additional environmental and health hazards, such as increased asthma rates.

While Diaz's decision is nonbinding, it will carry much weight with the City Council, where the final decision will be made ill the fall. Diaz can make his mark and blaze a path toward meeting the community's need for good jobs that pay a living wage - the bedrock of healthy families, strong communities and One Bronx.

Doug Cunningham is pastor of the New Day United Methodist Church in Bedford Park and a member of the Kingsbridge Armory Redevelopment Alliance.