Friday, March 25, 2011

Cuomo’s H.E.L.P. History Potentially a Pertinent Factor Vis-à-vis Ratner’s Atlantic Yards’ Dense Modular Construction

It seemed worthwhile to take the Way Back Machine for a spin to retrieve for present-day consideration what may be some pertinent background vis-à-vis Forest City Ratner’s announced intention to build the tallest prefab modular building in the world and then, perhaps, to proceed to build the densest thicket of such buildings imaginable. (See: Friday, March 18, 2011, The Real Question to Ask About the Ratner Bait-and-Switch Approach on Atlantic Yards and Friday, March 18, 2011, A Ratner Bluff on the Not-So-Fab Prefab Modulars? A Second Opinion.)

A mere score of years ago, Andrew Cuomo was using modular to build some of his H.E.L.P. projects, projects that provided transitional or permanent housing for homeless families. This was back when Mr. Cuomo, now governor of the state of New York, was just the son of the then governor of the State of New York, his father Mario. (See: Housing for Homeless Approved, by James Feron, Special to The New York Times, April 24, 1990.)

Why is this important? Because Mr. Cuomo is the decision maker to who controls ESDC (the “New York State Urban Development Corporation” doing business as the “New York State Urban Development Corporation”) and could thereby, with relatively little difficulty, pull the plug on Bruce Ratner’s Atlantic Yards Mega-monopoly to send Mr. Ratner packing. He should.

Although it is potentially pertinent background, it should not be thought that Mr. Ratner is proposing to build in the footsteps of Mr. Cuomo. Mr. Cuomo was never building the sort of tall buildings or high-density project that Mr. Ratner is talking about and he did not push the envelope beyond tested technology as Mr. Ratner proposes to do. Mr. Cuomo promised high quality cost effective design (donated by contributing architects), he did not engage in a bait-and-switcheroo that started with a promise of premium starchitecture via the likes of Frank Gehry.

Nevertheless, there are those who are likely to remember, recalling the issues of the day. The unions are likely to remember. Mr. Cuomo is likely to remember. And who knows what those who may be talking to Governor Cuomo may be saying to him about this, perhaps thinking that the rest of us don’t remember. One of the issues that came up back then, an issue you can only get with modular construction, is whether the modular units might be built out of state. Heck, with modular construction you could build in Canada! But, back then, not even the governor’s son was supposed to build out of state, not even to save money to house more of the homeless.

Using the Way Back Machine capabilities of the New York Times (via an article bylined by Joyce Purnick best known these days as Bloomberg’s biographer) here is what some of the debate looked like back in 1986:
The reasons given for the delay differ. Andrew Cuomo, who does not acknowledge a delay, said it has taken this long to line up the financing and iron out the legal questions over the title to the land. . . .

Others working on the project cited complications with local unions. The building-trades unions are balking, they said, because they object to using prefabricated units in the place of traditional construction.

'Lot of Misdirection'

A number of people involved in the project said this week that although statewide union leaders had agreed, in principle, to using prefabricated units, local leaders and members do not. Workers elsewhere in the state would make the prefabricated parts, but local workers would lose on-site work.

Some described the problem as an internal union dispute. Others agreed, but also said the project's sponsors, including Mr. Cuomo, had failed to anticipate the problem before announcing the plan.

''There was a lot of misdirection from the beginning,'' the president of the State Federation of Labor, Edward J. Cleary, said. ''This thing has turned into a political thing. There's too much talk out in the public. Nothing is ever accomplished in doing things in the newspapers.''

* * * *

The project, the first stage of what is ultimately to be 10 shelters housing 2,000 families around the state, was seen as an innovative solution to the problems of the homeless, as well as a political solution, for the Mayor and the Governor. . . . .

Harsh Exchange With Unions

According to city officials, Mr. Cuomo and leaders of local unions exchanged harsh words at a meeting six weeks ago. Mr. Cuomo said he would not characterize the meeting that way, but would not be more specific.

The type of construction to be used remains unresolved. Mr. Cuomo, a lawyer in private practice, said that as soon as the remaining financial and legal matters were resolved, ''we'll sit down and work this out in one session.''

The city and state prefer using the prefabricated, or modular, units, because, the officials said, they would cost up to 20 percent less than conventional buildings and would save as much as five months in building time.

Mr. Cuomo described the debate over the construction methods as a long-running one between the city and the unions.

Long-Term Controversy

''It's gone on for 10 years and will probably go for another 10 years,'' he said. ''Has the controversy arisen again? Yes it has. But does the outcome of the controversy have a significant impact on the ultimate outcome of Help I? The answer is no.''

In a subsequent interview, he acknowledged that if conventional construction were used, the project would take more time. ''It has not been the cause for delay up front, but it would delay it at the back end,'' he said.

It remains unclear when construction on the shelter could begin or how long it would take. . . . .

The timetable depends on the construction method. If it is prefabricated units, he said, the shelter could be completed by next spring or early summer.
(Andrew Cuomo's Proposal for Shelter Runs into Snags, by Joyce Purnick, September 23, 1986.)

A note of disclosure: I was the attorney in charge of working on these H.E.L.P. projects with Mr. Cuomo at the New York State Housing Finance Agency which provided financing.

No comments: