As part of the attempt to dampen the spread of COVID-19 across New York City, Governor Cuomo ordered all non-essential construction projects across the city and throughout the rest of the state to pause indefinitely, effective March 27. However, there are still many projects deemed essential, many of which include affordable housing units, hospital/medical facilities, and utility work.
The NYC Department of Buildings recently released an interactive map showing active projects in the five burrows that have been approved to continue. However, there has been a scramble by construction contractors and developers seeking clarification on whether or not their projects are considered essential. According to the New York Times, there were over 900 appeals to the buildings department the day after the order, by developers trying to make the case that their projects were of vital interest to the public good. (New York Times, 2020)
The confusion has been exacerbated by the decision to consider all construction of hotels essential because they can serve as housing for medical workers, according to the same New York Times report. Muddying the waters even more is the question of what affordable housing - which has also been tagged as essential - really means. A 2017 affordable housing program offering tax breaks to any residential development with at least 30% of its units allocated for affordable housing, has encouraged luxury-type apartment buildings with a few below market-value units. Under the new order, these projects are allowed to continue while similar ones are not.
It remains to be seen how long these restrictions will remain in place, or what the ultimate cost will be to developers and contractors. But the main concern should be the health of the construction workers at these sites who have been putting their lives in jeopardy. Reports of dangerously unsanitary conditions on worksites prior to the March 27th order reflect the need to ensure that those who are working on essential projects have the resources like masks and sanitation equipment to do so safely.