SOMERVILLE, MA – A coalition of community groups and unions are campaigning to ensure that a for-profit developer pays prevailing wages and uses union labor on a public-private partnership to rebuild public housing.
The for-profit developer, Redgate, along with non-profit developers Preservation of Affordable Housing (POAH) and Somerville Community Corporation (SCC), are planning to renovate Clarendon Hill Apartments in Somerville and build market rate units to pay for it.
Public-private partnerships like this are part of a trend in financing the redevelopment of existing public housing. The developers seek to minimize costs by getting a pass on the state’s prevailing wage law.
The Somerville Housing Authority contracted with real estate developer Redgate to rebuild the dilapidated Clarendon Hill apartments. As part of the agreement, Redgate will build more than 300 luxury apartments on the land, and contribute funding to reconstruction of 253 public housing units by POAH. The plan separates the development into two projects, having the effect of treating Redgate's units as a private project -- which it hopes will not be subject to state laws governing public works.
Our Revolution Somerville (ORS), a local community group, worked with Somerville labor unions to urge Redgate to use union labor and pay prevailing wages on its portion of the multi-phased redevelopment.
The unions assisted ORS to do an independent financial analysis of the deal showing that the potential profit margin on the luxury apartments was more than sufficient for the developer to pay prevailing wage. The analysis was shared with the Somerville Board of Aldermen.
After numerous meetings, Redgate has committed to use union labor on at least a portion of the development.
Before the project can go forward, Redgate must still get its Home Rule Petition approved by the Board of Aldermen. ORS and a coalition of unions will continue to pressure Redgate until it agrees to pay prevailing wage and abides by all other Massachusetts Chapter 149 regulations on its portion of the Clarendon Hill job.
"This is a great example of how unions and community groups can collaborate to fight and win against a 'race to the bottom' in labor practices," said Penelope Jennewein, a volunteer organizer with ORS. "We're happy to see that Redgate will use union labor on one part of the project. But that falls far short of the required construction labor needed. Let us be very clear: all workers at Clarendon Hill and elsewhere in Somerville should receive the prevailing wage as well."
"We agree that the residents of Clarendon Hill should reside in the best housing possible, and that high quality affordable housing in Somerville should be accessible to all," said Jaril Gauthier, a sheetmetal worker and Somerville resident. "However, we are opposed to the notion of betraying one important mission for another, especially when a private interest stands to make tens of millions of dollars off this so-called public-private "partnership."