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Old Posted Apr 9, 2015, 3:27 PM
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1,100-unit Harlem project promises affordable housing but not union jobs, yet

A plan to build three, roughly 50-foot-tall towers on top of East River Plaza, a large shopping mall close to the river, would appear to have everything going for it as it seeks approval from the de Blasio administration and the City Council.

Forest City Ratner Cos. and Blumenfeld Development Group are already proposing that the one-million-square-foot development set aside 25 percent of its units to lease at significantly below market rate. That’s more than the 20 percent that had become commonplace over the years.

The project will be decided upon as the city prepares to unveil more details about the mayor’s aggressive housing plan, which aims to produce 80,000 new affordable housing units within a decade. One key piece of that plan is a requirement that affordable housing be included in all major housing projects that need rezonings.

Last year, the administration and the City Council were able to persuade a developer in Queens to set aside 25 percent of its units at the planned Astoria Cove complex but only after a long negotiation. The city agreed to subsidize an additional two percent, hailing the deal as a template for developing more affordable housing with cooperation from private developers.

But some players in development and finance questioned the deal, pointing to the ambitious 25 percent figure—and the fact that the Astoria Cove developers planned to use union labor, greatly increasing the project’s overall cost.

It’s not yet decided whether the East River Plaza development will use union labor—and according to one source close to Forest City, that’s quickly becoming a point of contention between Forest City and Blumenfeld, leaving the project “deeply troubled.”

Forest City has been seen, for the most part, as a friend to organized labor. Founder Bruce Ratner, a close ally to Mayor Bill de Blasio, has often championed the liberal cause and given extensively to Democratic candidates. There was one dispute over plumbing work for a modular building at Atlantic Yards in Brooklyn, but even that did not involve an accusation of using non-union workers—just one trade instead of another.

Michael J. McGuire, the director of the Mason Tenders District Council’s political action committee, said he had heard about such a dispute between Forest City and Blumenfeld. He said it made sense that Forest City would demand a full-union workforce.

“Absolutely. We always counted on partnering with Forest City Ratner, on multiple projects over the years,” McGuire said. “They always build union. I would be stunned if they agreed to go forward on a project without union labor.”

Edward Blumenfeld, the company’s president, denies the claims of a schism between the firms. He said he had been unaware of any disagreement over whether to allow an organized workforce, and said, “we’re moving forward.”

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