Julian Pagan, a Brooklyn native, enrolled in the construction worker training initiative run by the St. Nicks Alliance because he wanted a job with a stable career path. For participants, the initiative offers a foot in the door to a tightly guarded industry and a ladder to the middle class. That dream was set for many Bushwick residents who were positioned to enter the industry this way. But because of New York City’s competitive real estate market, this working class neighborhood may lose some key job opportunities for its residents.
After bouncing from job to job in Florida and working for minimum wage at a BJ’s Wholesale Club, Pagan, 26, saw a flyer for the initiative and immediately visited the workforce headquarters. Trainees acquire hard-to-come-by credentials to work on construction sites in New York. One credential in particular, the OSHA 10 safety training, is a basic requirement for New York City workers.
“The certifications are important to be self-sufficient here. Construction is a hard area to get into,” Pagan said. For the developer, he says, “time is money and they want work done quickly. They don’t want inexperience.” Pagan hopes that the training will serve as a platform for him to study electrical engineering.
Since offering the training, St. Nicks Alliance has placed more than 20 construction graduates in local construction sites in North Brooklyn, according to Jose Leon, the group’s Deputy Executive Director.
Jennifer Wilkerson, the Director of Marketing for the National Center for Construction Education and Research, says that “Credentials have proven to significantly increase earning potential and upward mobility.. Certification or formal training can also put craft professionals on the fast track to upper management or ownership positions.”
And for those who can get a foothold in the industry, there is plenty of opportunity. Construction in New York City is soaring, a fact that is most pronounced in Brooklyn. According to a report released by Axiometrics, a housing market research firm, Brooklyn has the most apartment construction of anyplace in the nation.
Brooklyn’s Bushwick was slated to gain a chunk of these opportunities when a developer made plans to build an expensive residential project known as the Rheingold development in the neighborhood’s industrial corner. On behalf of the community, the Rheingold Community Coalition negotiated a community benefits agreement that required the developer to provide job training and hiring for locals, among other things.
Unfortunately, the Rheingold project was sold to a pair of new owners, and they have yet to make a full commitment to the community benefits agreement between the previous owner and the Rheingold Community Coalition.
What will happen to the jobs promised to Bushwick remains unclear.
If there was ever a symbol of the changes in Bushwick, and Brooklyn at large, it is the Rheingold development. Once the site of the Rheingold brewery, a popular beer producer in the 1960s that employed hundreds of working class people in Bushwick, the land now sits vacant with luxury housing soon to take its place.
When the brewery closed in 1974, some 600 workers responded to the closing with a sit-in that lasted several months according to the New York Times archives. Protest erupted again in 2014, when the community learned that a real estate firm, Read Property, had quietly petitioned City Planning for the rights to build a massive luxury residence on the property.
The Rheingold Community Coalition successfully put a hold on the plans in 2013 after lobbying Bushwick’s City former Councilwoman Diana Reyna, whose vote swayed City approval of the development rights. Through the coalition, neighborhood leaders secured a community benefits agreement in exchange for their support of the Rheingold project.
In the agreement, the developers conceded to a number of neighborhood investments including school funding, 30 percent affordable housing, and public spaces, as well as job training and employment for up to 60 area locals on the project’s construction site, through the St. Nicks Alliance.
A year after the agreement, the developer sold the Rheingold development to new owners for a enormous profit. County records filed in April show that the real estate firm, All-Year Management, purchased slices of the land separately for $68.5 million and $72 million. Another firm, The Rabsky Group, purchased a third portion of the land for $50 million, according to The Real Deal.
To the frustration of the community, neither of the new developers has sat down to formally accept the previous community benefits agreement despite multiple requests from the coalition and the St. Nicks Alliance.
St. Nicks Alliance’s team remains optimistic, as they have forged unofficial agreement with All Year Management’s contractors for construction job referrals. However, without a formal partnership agreement, trainees at the St. Nicks Alliance, and the rest of the Bushwick community remain in the dark.
All Year Management and the Rabsky Group did not respond to requests for comment.
For now, the training continues. “The challenge is that without a developer commitment and cooperation we are unable to recruit and refer candidates. We do not train individuals just for the sake of training and without access to potential jobs,” said Leon.
But others in the community do not share that optimism. Julie Dent, the Community Board chairwoman, voiced Bushwick’s frustration regarding the deal at a community board meeting earlier this year.
“We wholeheartedly embrace housing in our community. Moreover we embrace respect. I do not think that you would do this in other communities. I am asking you that if you would like to continue doing business in our community that you have to respect the residents,” said Dent.
Joshua Brown, who is also a member of Bushwick’s Community Board and a real estate agent for Flateau Realty Corp., said, “I think they are going to get a lot less than what they originally got with the previous developer.
“It’s typical for developers to sell properties without thinking about the community,” he said. “The old Rheingold Brewery is just one.”