As promised, the City Council overrode the mayor’s veto of Intro 730, a bill dubbed the HPD Transparency Act, by a unanimous vote. Speaker Christine Quinn defended the 46-0 override saying, “This piece of legislation, which is simple in many ways, it’s just transparency. It’s just the info. Why don’t we want to have the info behind our Department of Housing out there? Why don’t we want New Yorkers to have all the facts out there.”
The bill has been criticized for it’s wage reporting standards, which opponents say adds an onerous bureaucratic burden for small firms and MWBEs. Opponents of the bill argue that the supposed transparency of the bill would do little to ensure quality construction. Just knowing how much someone gets paid does not guarantee a better building, the ostensible reason for the bill. When asked about how the bill might still achieve this, the speaker stood by Intro 730.
“The truth is to some degree you get what you pay for,” Speaker Quinn said. “And we’ve unfortunately heard terrible stories of people being paid off the books, under the table, corruption and things to that nature. Knowing exactly what wages are getting paid and how will give us a clear paper trail of where the money is going and we can then really do almost a comparison. What homes are standing up the best. What homes are having the biggest level of complaints. What homes are basically not standing at the end of the day. Who built them? How much? and How much did they pay their workers?”
Speaker Quinn was less forthcoming when answering the claim, in accordance with the Mayor’s own veto statement, that the wage standards were simply a way for the unions to break into public development. “What the unions do or think of this bill you’ll have to ask them,” she said. “All of the reporting requirements are in one way or another, these developers are supposed to be reporting.” HPD argues the bill requires considerably more reporting and will cost the industry tens of millions of dollars, meaning less housing will get built.
But given a spate of scandals at HPD, it was easy for the bill to get broad support, whatever the motives. “Our focus on this bill is responding to horror stories from New Yorkers who scrimped and saved and bought homes through HPD programs and then found the work not at all what they bought, not at all what they paid for,” Speaker Quinn said. “They’re kind of a little bit of the American dream and nightmare.”
It’s a point echoed by Brooklyn Councilman Dominick Recchia, one if the cosponsors of the bill. “We want people to have home ownership, but we want it built the right way,” he said. “They shouldn’t be getting something half-assed. It’s not right.”
In a statement, HPD Commissioner Matt Wambua condemned the bill yet again as “special interest politics driving bad policy.”
“It places a massive burden on local, minority, and women-owned businesses that don’t have the capacity to meet the Council’s wage reporting mandate which goes far beyond current requirements,” he continued. “These are the same businesses that Council Members ask HPD to include on projects to support the local economy in their districts. The real loss comes to local minority and women-owned businesses, the City’s economy, and working-class New Yorkers who badly need affordable housing.”