Mayor Bloomberg has made it clear that he does not support a new bill being considered by the City Council–a bill that would require employers to pay living wages to all workers at city-subsidized projects. This idea would seem to make a lot of sense. When the City puts up taxpayer money to help developers, they should in turn be expected to pay their workers a living wage. In this situation, both parties benefit as well as the community. This is not rocket science. In fact, it is an all-around good business practice to pay your employees a decent wage.
Almost 20 other cities around the country have established some form of wage standards for city-subsidized projects. The mayor’s argument is, as usual, that this policy would hurt developers. But Mayor Bloomberg, what about the working poor? What about the people that are working over 40 hours a week and can barely feed and clothe their families? What about what hurts and benefits them? Oh right, I forgot. You don’t care.
We see the Mayor’s hypocrisy clearly when it comes to homeless policy. He will give developers every incentive in the book, but wants to charge working homeless families rent for shelter, which apart from being unusually cruel is also a disincentive to work. The new Department of Homeless Services Commissioner has been relentlessly promoting a “work first” approach to homelessness. Part of this new approach means that the City will now only give rental assistance (albeit short-term and inadequate assistance) to families who work at least 35 hours a week. But these families are working the types of low-paying jobs that don’t allow them to simultaneously take care of their families and pay their rent once the subsidy runs out. DHS’s own data states that these families make an average of $9.00 an hour.
Meanwhile, the majority of families won’t even qualify for this inadequate subsidy because they can’t find work (we do still have near 10% unemployment in this city), or they don’t work enough hours (a decision that is most often in the hands of their boss, not them).
This weekend I met a young homeless mother with two children, who were remarkably bright and social for their young ages. She has no high school diploma and not a penny to her name. The Mayor’s proposed solution to her plight: She should get a low wage job in order to receive a small amount of rental assistance for one or two years and then just hope for the best.
With the seemingly inexhaustible amount of money we have for developers, you would think we could come up with a more effective and humane policy than that.