NYCHA To Train Residents To Build Their Own Affordable Housing

Graduates will go on to build affordable housing in their communities. (Buildingskills.com)

Graduates will go on to build affordable housing in their communities. (www.buildingskillsny.org)

The New York City Housing Authority has really taken the whole teaching a man to fish thing to heart. NYCHA  is getting a new construction workforce training program—launched by Building Skills NY in conjunction with Brooklyn Workforce Innovation and Goldman Sachs Urban Investment Group—that will teach residents how to build affordable housing in their communities.

That’s one way to address the affordable housing crisis! Though to be fair, the focus is more on building job skills than on building affordable housing. And while graduates will be funneled into job placements with affordable housing developers, the program is primarily a job training program rather than a Habitat for Humanity-style sweat equity scheme.

“The idea is that the developers and and contractors in the affordable housing industry will hire people in the communities in which we’re building. Not only to provide the housing, but to provide some economic benefit and workforce opportunity,” said Eric Bluestone, a founding member of Building Skills NY and a developer of affordable and market rate housing.

The 8 to 10-week training program, which is free for students, includes instruction in construction math, carpentry, safety (including OSHA standards and some lead and asbestos abatement), electrical, plumbing and blueprint reading. NYCHA, which will select and screen applicants, plans to hold at least two training sessions per year for 30 to 35 students. The program will be funded through Goldman Sachs’ Urban Investment and NYCHA, which is in turn received funding for the program through the Robin Hood Foundation.

The partnership with NYCHA will be new, but Building Skills NY has been running training programs for unemployed and low-income New Yorkers for nearly five years with classes at LaGuardia Community College, according to Mr. Bluestone. (The classes for the program are now being held at CityTech in Brooklyn.) Though 8 to 10-weeks may sound like a relatively short time to break into the construction industry, Mr. Bluestone said that the companies who hire graduates—mostly members of the New York State Association for Affordable Housing or the Queens Bronx Builder’s Association—have expressed satisfaction with the training: “they’re really impressed with how many of these students are coming into the jobs with great skills.”

Though why let all those construction workers go to work for outside developers? Given that NYCHA is desperately trying to work through its backlog of repairs (you know things are bad when the Housing Authority sends out a press release bragging that they’re down to only 350,000 repairs, from a high point of 420,000), it seems that graduates’ new-found expertise might be best put to use even closer to home—their own buildings.