Worker’s death leads city to form new task force

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In response to the death of a construction worker in a Manhattan work site, New York City officials have announced the formation of the Construction Fraud Task Force, an interagency initiative that seeks to crack down on unsafe practices in the construction industry.

The group, which was launched after authorities announced manslaughter charges against supervisors and companies running a construction site in 9-19 Ninth Avenue, was installed with marching orders “to identify and prosecute citywide corruption and fraud in the construction industry.”

DA Cyrus Vance, whose has formed a new task force with the Department of Investigation, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s Office of the Inspector General and the Business Integrity Commission.

“There are human consequences to New York City’s historic building boom,” said New York County District Attorney Cyrus Vance, whose office formed the body with the Department of Investigation, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s Office of the Inspector General and the Business Integrity Commission.

“A rush to develop can often result in hazardous lapses in safety practices. Unfortunately, many of these dangers are only exposed after the lives of workers and residents are jeopardized, which is why my Office and our partners have formed the Construction Fraud Task Force to investigate proactively construction-related crimes that threaten the integrity of the industry and safety of the City.”

While authorities claim that the group can be a deterrent against unsafe practices in work sites, construction industry representatives say that companies remain wary of the new task force.

“It’s making a difficult job become more difficult,” said Brian Gardner, the chairman of the construction services department at law firm Cole Schotz.


Gardner, whose firm represents one the companies indicted for the 9-19 Ninth Avenue incident, said that “criminalizing” accidents, coupled with formalizing ambiguous rules, may have harmful effects on the industry.

“I think the construction industry is being unfairly targeted. I think that they do an incredible job as a whole in terms of safety and there are no guidelines being put out by the DA’s office,” he said.
Gardner added that there is no evidence that there are more accidents in spite of a construction boom in the city.

“There’s a lot of construction going on and I don’t think they can show that there’s an increase in accidents,” he said.

David Pfeffer, the chair of the construction practice group at law firm Tarter Krinsky & Drogin, disagreed with Gardner’s assertion, saying: “The more construction you have, the more chances there are for accidents.”

City statistics show an uptick in construction-related fatalities for the first half of this year.


According to data from the Department of Buildings, there were eight construction-related deaths in the city during the first half of this year, which equals the total for the whole of 2014.

Pfeffer, who lauded the city for establishing the task force, said that the group is necessary for protecting the public.

“The construction industry has been notorious for its failure to self-police itself,” he said. Pfeffer said that companies that have a focus on safety will not be affected by the formation of the task force.

“The vast majority of operators don’t need to change how they operate,” he said.

The agencies involved in the task force will meet monthly to investigate fraud, bribery, extortion, money laundering, bid rigging, safety violation cases.

According to a press release, the task force will be headed by Assistant District Attorney Diana Florence, who has been appointed as Attorney-In-Charge.

The new task force will oversee a construction industry that is operating on record levels of activity.

According to US Census Bureau figures, developers in the city received residential building permits for 42,088 houses and apartments during the first half of the year.


The amount, which received a boost from developers rushing to qualify before the 421-a tax break expired last June, is more than any full-year figure since 1963.

The launch of the task force coincided with indictments over the death of construction worker Carlos Mancayo. The Manhattan District Attorney’s Office and the Department of Investigation charged supervisors Wilmer Cueva and Alfonso Prestia, and their employers, Sky Materials, Inc. and Harco Construction.

Along with the indictments, authorities also suspended HARCO’s license and issued a Stop Work Order for a site where Sky Materials served as a subcontractor.


Poorly Maintained Plumbing Could Have Caused Legionnaires’ Disease Outbreak

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According to two new US government reports, while New York City is making efforts to deal with an outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease, the bacteria that lead to the potentially fatal disease could establish in a number of water sources.

As per researchers, poorly maintained water fountains, hot tubs and cooling towers could be among those sources.

According to Karlyn Beer, of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and colleagues, “The variety of settings and water sources implicated in the Legionella outbreaks reported here highlights the complexity of Legionella control . . . particularly in settings where susceptible persons congregate, such as hospitals, long-term care facilities, and other health-care settings”.

Initially, Legionnaires’ disease was detected in 1976 at a convention in Philadelphia for American Legionnaires. The disease is also known as legionellosis or Legion fever and is a form of different pneumonia led by any type of Legionella bacteria. In general, the span of time between exposure to the bacteria and the symptoms is two to 10 days; however, there could be a rare expansion of up to 20 days.

This year, the number of outbreaks is in the normal range; however, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said that the number of cases per outbreak has remained more than normal and cases occur more commonly in late summer and fall.

An update on an outbreak on Legionnaires’ disease has been provided by health and veterans affairs officials. According to Shay Drummond the Director of Clinical and Environmental Services for Adams County, Legionella bacteria thrives in warm water so as water is still in pipes.


Slow down super-tall construction

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“Beyond a shadow of a doubt” (Editorial, Aug. 24) belittles concerns shared by many civic organizations, community groups and individuals over the process that led to the construction of several super-tall towers in midtown.

The Municipal Art Society feels strongly that development must take into account context and local impacts, especially cumulative ones. And in a city like New York, new development should also contribute to improving infrastructure and public spaces.

We continue to call for a better balance between private profit and public benefit, and to insist on a more transparent planning process.

In the case of the 57th Street towers, that balance is completely out of alignment. The zoning permitted developers to accumulate air rights without anyone knowing. The designs received no public input and proceeded without any environmental review.

The public infrastructure upon which these towers will rely—the electrical grid, the public transportation system—is already overburdened. Further, the city has done nothing to ensure these developments will be integrated with the streetscape.

We were instrumental in creating the first zoning ordinance, not only in New York City, but in the country. Its purpose was to ensure a balance of uses, forms and functions as the city developed. But building technologies and the global market have catapulted many neighborhoods into places of rapid, extraordinary change, and we no longer have the right checks and balances in place.

The city needs to embrace and channel new development that strengthens neighborhoods and the city. Improved transparency, coupled with better mechanisms to ensure that development proceeds thoughtfully and anticipates impacts, will go a long way toward generating an intentional, rather than accidental, skyline.


Carbon Monoxide Detectors Now Required in Commercial Buildings in New York

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An amendment to the Executive Law of New York State modifying the Uniform Fire Prevention and Building Code became effective on June 27, 2015, which now requires owners of existing commercial buildings to install carbon monoxide alarms or detection equipment in every commercial building and restaurant that: (i) contains any carbon monoxide source (including any garage or any other motor-vehicle-related occupancy); and/or (ii) is attached to a garage; and/or (iii) is attached to any other motor-vehicle-related occupancy.  These requirements apply without regard to whether a commercial building is an existing commercial building or a new commercial building and without regard to whether a commercial building has been offered for sale.  Carbon monoxide detection is not required in a commercial building that is: (a) classified, in its entirety, in Storage Group S or Utility and Miscellaneous Group U under chapter 3 of the 2010 Building Code of New York State; (b) occupied only occasionally and only for building or equipment maintenance; and (c) a canopy (as defined in the 2010 Fire Code of New York State).

An “existing commercial building” is a commercial building that was constructed prior to December 31, 2015. A commercial building is deemed to have been constructed prior to December 31, 2015, and deemed to be an existing commercial building, if: (i) the original construction of such commercial building was completed prior to December 31, 2015; or (ii) the complete application for the building permit for the original construction of such commercial building was filed prior to December 31, 2015.  Mixed use buildings are also subject to this new requirement.

Carbon monoxide detection must be provided in each story of a building or “detection zone” in a building in which at least one of three triggering conditions exists, which include the presence of any carbon monoxide source (which include any appliance or equipment that may emit carbon monoxide, such as fuel fired furnaces and boilers; space heaters with pilot lights or open flames; kerosene heaters; wood stoves; fireplaces; and stoves, ovens, dryers, water heaters and refrigerators that use gas or liquid fuel), garages, and other motor vehicle related occupancies.  If a detection zone is not within a “classroom” (which is broadly defined to include a place where classes are taught; or a room that is occupied or capable of being occupied by 6 or more persons (including students and teachers) at any one time), carbon monoxide protection is not required if: (i) such detection zone has ambient conditions that would, under normal conditions and with all required ventilation and exhaust systems installed and operating properly, activate the carbon monoxide detection devices that otherwise would be required in a detection zone, and an alternative safety plan for the building has been approved by the applicable governmental agency; or (ii) such detection zone is open (without sidewalls or drops) on 50% or more of its perimeter, and there is no occupiable area within such detection zone that is not open on at least 50% of its perimeter.

The NY State Fire Prevention and Building Code Council is responsible for developing criteria setting forth the manufacture, design and installation standards for these alarms and detection equipment.

Commercial building owners are being encouraged to install detection equipment in their buildings as quickly as practicable during a “transition period” between the effective date (June 27, 2015) and June 27, 2016.  An owner will not be in violation during this transition period if it can provide to the applicable municipal agency a written statement certifying that the owner is making a good faith attempt to install detection equipment as quickly as practicable.  The detection equipment must be fully installed and operational by the end of the transition period (June 27, 2016).


New York City remains far behind in reducing Greenhouse Emissions

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NEW YORK (Sputnik) — New York City is falling behind in the attempt to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer’s office stated in a report released on Thursday.

“The Department of Citywide Administrative Services (DCAS) has failed to set goals for reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in municipal buildings and is not properly tracking the City’s efforts to conserve energy in city buildings,” the report stated.

In 2007, former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced a plan to cut GHG emissions from city-owned buildings by 30 percent by 2017.

According to the Comptroller’s Office, however, the city has only lowered emissions by 17 percent and is not on track to reach its goal.

The main reason, according to Stringer, is the inability of the DCAS to properly track emissions from various buildings throughout the city.

“By failing to set and meet its own standards, or consistently track GHG reductions in city buildings, DCAS has become a poster child for ineffectiveness, rather than a role model for sustainability,” he explained.

Good data leads to good policy, he argued, “and right now the City is far from achieving that standard.”

Stinger’s office has called on the DCAS to document how it will track GHG emission reductions, and show how the data it provides to the city will be computed.

DCAS manages more than 50 public buildings across New York City, including City Hall and the Manhattan Supreme Court House, according to the DCAS website.

Controversial landmarks bill thrusts an obscure rule into the spotlight

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At the heart of a battle over proposed deadlines for the city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission lies an obscure but powerful process called calendaring—an extra layer of red tape deliberately added to the construction process to put a property into preservation limbo.

The term is jargon for when the commission begins to seriously consider a property for protection under the city’s landmarks law. It slows the act of altering or demolishing a potentially significant building, but can’t stop it on its own.

The process has been in place for decades, but a new City Council proposal to limit how long items can stay on the calendar list has been a call to arms for scores of preservation groups opposed to the idea, and real estate, union, religious and affordable-housing groups who support it.

Calendaring has caused such a stir because it involves the city’s conduit for all construction activity: the Department of Buildings.

Whenever an address is added to the landmarks commission’s calendar, a notice arrives at the buildings department. If any owner, architect or contractor tries to file a permit to alter or demolish the structure, the department delays the work for up to 40 days. During that time, the landmarks commission may decide the alteration would have no negative effect on the historic portions of a building, and issue a notice allowing the buildings department to proceed. Or it may use the full 40 days to negotiate with an owner, or try to quickly designate a building before any work can be done.

In many instances over the years, the commission has succeeded in getting a building protected before the 40 days were up. But in several instances owners have also gained approval for demolitions or large, anachronistic additions that ultimately cooled the commission’s desire to protect an individual property.

Preservationists such as Simeon Bankoff, executive director of the Historic Districts Council, believe that calendaring at least deters property owners from destroying a potential landmark, while also allowing them to perform work that doesn’t affect historic portions of a building.

“I don’t see how this is causing havoc in the real estate market in New York City,” said Mr. Bankoff, who noted that in recent years the commission has heard most applications within the time frames being proposed, which in his view obviates the need for rules that might endanger complicated cases that could take longer.

On the other hand, groups including the Real Estate Board of New York believe that if properties are calendared for too long, it creates an undue hardship on property owners.

“Waiting 40 days for a permit is significant,” a spokesman from the Real Estate Board of New York said. “Delays add to the cost of a project, and could cause a number of unforeseen complications, like losing a contractor.”

And the way the rules are written now, properties can sit on the list for a very long time.

“We have items on the calendar that have been there in excess of 40 years,” said City Councilman David Greenfield, D-Brooklyn, who sponsored the bill with colleague Peter Koo, D-Queens. “That is not bad government. That is horrible government.”

Mr. Greenfield was referring to roughly 100 properties that have been calendared for more than five years, many for decades. They’re a fraction of the thousands of cases the commission has heard in the 50 years that the landmarks law has been on the books, but to many in the business and real estate world, the backlog shows what can happen without the deadlines that govern other land-use processes such as zoning.


Historic homeless levels have city examining all the options for housing

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As the number of homeless people in New York City flirts with record levels, the effectiveness of affordable housing as a tool to keep people out of the streets is due for a thorough assessment.

Recently, homelessness has re-emerged as a favorite gripe among New Yorkers, from Rudolph Giuliani’s complaint against a homeless man on the Upper East Side, to the New York Post’s demonization of people living on the streets.

The city has sought to reduce homelessness through different measures. Recently, Mayor de Blasio announced a plan that leveraged land rezoning for the creation of affordable housing.

Last July, the city government financed the creation of 20,235 affordable housing units, the highest number since the Department of Housing Preservation and Development was established in 1978 and enough to house 50,000 New Yorkers, according to de Blasio.

Earlier this month, De Blasio also unveiled a $22 million per year plan that aims to provide mental health care to homeless people with mental illnesses.

The programs, whether they prove effective or not in reducing homelessness, would take some time to pay off. Meanwhile, the city is faced with a major homeless crisis.

The number of homeless people in New York City reached an all-time high of 59,000 people last December. The number has dropped by a few thousand since then.

The situation has been exacerbated by the changing profile of the city’s homeless, with an increasing number of employed workers occupying homeless shelters.


According to Elizabeth Strojan, the program director for public policy and external affairs for affordable housing non-profit Enterprise Community Partners, a large majority of the households they’ve helped have employed family members.

Enterprise runs the 10-month-old Come Home NYC program, which helps people in homeless shelters move into affordable housing.

According to Strojan, the initiative, which was launched last November, has so far placed 32 families.

“The average income for these families is $35,000. Which is not a whole lot, but it’s a lot of money to be homeless. It’s really shocking,” Strojan said. Since the December high, the de Blasio administration has introduced measures to boost the city’s affordable housing inventory.

With the 20,235 affordable housing apartments promised by the city yet ot be built, the administration still has to find ways to house 56,000 homeless people in municipal shelters.

While the de Blasio administration continues to grapple with the problem, they are quick to point to what they claim to be the situation’s source.

“The true spike in homelessness came before Mayor De Blasio came into office,” said Ishanee Parikh, a deputy press secretary for the Mayor’s Office. She pointed to the Bloomberg administration’s phasing out of initiatives such as the Advantage Program, which provided rent subsidies of $1,000 to families.

“The difference from the previous administration is that there are now a lot of programs to help people exit shelters, like these rental assistance programs. The people didn’t have a pathway to exit from shelter and move to permanent housing. They ended up getting stuck in shelter and, at that point, the homeless population went up.

“There was an affordability crisis, and, on top of that, a lot of programs that were helping them exit shelter were cut,” Parikh said.

This meant that even workers earning living wages were pushed out of their homes.

Strojan said that 94 percent of the households they work with have at least one member who’s employed. Her estimates align with city data, which estimates that each year, about 2,000 families with yearly incomes between $25,000 to $50,000 end up in homeless shelters.

The higher end of that income range exceeds the annual median income for American workers, which 2014 Bureau of Labor Statistics figures pegged at $40,560.

The entry of employed workers in the homeless population has been largely attributed to three factors: stagnating wages, rising rents and low vacancy rates.

The city’s efforts to tackle the crisis have been widely praised.

“Currently, too many New Yorkers are struggling to remain in their homes because they simply cannot afford the rent,” said State Senator Gustavo Rivera earlier this month.

“Mayor de Blasio’s Housing New York Plan has already taken a significant step in helping preserve and increase the number of affordable housing units in our communities. I commend Mayor de Blasio for working to ensure that all New Yorkers are able to afford and maintain a home.”

While the city looks for ways to create affordable housing, it faces a difficult task in courting developers.

“I applaud that (Mayor De Blasio’s) trying to preserve affordable housing. I think it’s extremely important. I think that there are better ways to do so. I think oftentimes, the efforts that are made are


not in the best interest of the lower income residents of New York City,” said Adam Mermelstein, the managing member at Treetop Development, which has 400 affordable housing units in its portfolio.

Mermelstein, who criticized the affordable housing occupancy of people with substantial salaries, added that returns for developers are “extremely low” for affordable housing. Nonetheless, his firm has more affordable housing units included in the 300,000 s/f of projects they have in the pipeline.

According to the advocacy group Coalition for the Homeless, the number of homeless people in New York City represent the highest levels since the Great Depression.

In finding solutions to the problem, organizations are looking at a number of programs that have seen success elsewhere. Perhaps, the most intriguing is the Housing First model, which has reduced homelessness in Utah by 91 percent.

The strategy, which is also called “rapid re-housing,” involves moving people from the streets to affordable housing, based on projections that it cost cities more to run shelters and provide services to homeless people rather than moving them into homes.

“Every city throughout the country is starting to look at this. We’re all looking at how will this work here,” Strojan said. “Enterprise has been interested for a long time. A major obstacle to that in New York City is the lack of affordable housing. In order to place someone, you have to have that housing available.”

In a best case scenario, the lack of affordable housing may be a problem with a ten-year shelf life. Last May, Mayor De Blasio announced a 10-year housing plan that aims to produce 200,000 affordable housing units. The plan, which will be funded by an $8.2 billion from the city, represents a significant jump in investment in affordable housing. During Mayor Bloomberg’s 12 years in office, the city only allocated $5.3 billion for such programs.

While there are questions on how best to end homelessness, Strojan insists that the final answer is less ambiguous. “The solution to homelessness is housing,” she said.


Modular Brooklyn Tower Suffered ‘Significant Water Damage

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Late last year, when Skanska and Forest City were battling over construction ofB2, the modular apartment tower at Atlantic Yards (now called Pacific Park), a146-page letter revealed that the tower might have a serious leakage problem. And now, documents acquired through a Freedom of Information Law request by Atlantic Yards watch dog Norman Oder, show that yep, there was a serious leakage problem. The information comes from reports that consultant STV sent to the Empire State Development (ESD), the state agency overseeing the entire development. The reports are from 2013-2014, a period when construction of B2 was being closely watched, so delays were closely tracked in the press. When work started in late 2013, it was already delayed, but Forest City said it would be complete by the fourth quarter of 2014.

According to the FOIL documents, issues started almost as soon as the 930 mods started to be stacked at B2. They did not fit together as seamlessly as planned. At one point, STV’s William King wrote that workers “reportedly have had to shave drywall in past in order to squeeze in mods, then caulk.”

But the bigger problems came when it rained. “On April 4, 2014, King reported that, after a very rainy weekend, ‘a rain barrel filled up’ in one third-floor unit, and water entered second-floor mods.” He wrote that was “significant water damage” in half of the units. A few days later, he reported, “Jury is still out on gaskets which may be under increasing stress under weight of additional floors.” Things only seemed to get worse:

“The third worst occurrence of leaks into the building occurred after a heavy rainstorm” on July 2, 2014, King reported. Workers had to rip out the ceilings and walls of one sixth-floor unit, while water infiltration was noted in other units. Representatives of Skanska and MG McGrath, the facade contractor, “were at a loss as to how water got into the building,” King reported. By then, the ninth and tenth floors were being installed with some drywall sections omitted. On Aug. 1, 2014, King noted that all the floors, from 2 through 8, “have suffered significant water damage.”

The documents end in September 2014, right around the time that Skanska and Forest City sued each other. Since then, Forest City bought out Skanska and construction finally resumed.Forest City representatives had no comment, aside from what spokesperson Jeremy Soffin told City Limits: “Progress on B2 has been excellent since work resumed earlier this year and we are on track to complete the building next year. We remain enthusiastic about the potential for high-rise modular construction in New York.”

A few modular building experts weighed in on the issue, and noted that problems like those outlined in the documents were bound to happen in a building that was pushing prefab construction to new limits. B2 was going to be the tallest modular building in the world (China beat us), and Forest City chose to go their own way with a new company (the thing they had to buy Skanska out of) rather than work with established modular building experts.

Currently, B2 is scheduled to be complete sometime next year. For a more thorough rundown of B2’s history of issues and the FOIL documents, head over to City Limits. To look at the documents themselves, hit up Oder’s blog, Atlantic Yards Report.
· Documents Reveal Woes at Pioneering Atlantic Yards Building [City Limits]
· Skanska Says Atlantic Yards Modular Tower Could Be Leaky [Curbed]
· All Atlantic Yards Tower B2 [Curbed]


New York construction department to boost staff skills with new training partnership

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The agency responsible for New York City’s $10bn portfolio of public property assets has teamed up with an international professional body to boost the skills of its staff.

The NYC Department of Design and Construction (DDC) says the partnership agreement signed this week with the UK-headquartered Chartered Institute of Building (CIOB) was intended to help staff reach their full potential and develop the organisation.

“New York is a demanding environment … with its long history for iconic construction projects”– Bridget Bartlett, CIOB

According to the agreement, the CIOB will outline training programmes for DDC employees and tailor its careers advice and recommendations to suit individual employees’ requirements.

Employees will gain access to qualification workshops on topics such as project management, sustainability and planning, the CIOB said.

A global professional body for the development and conservation of the built environment, the CIOB accredits university degrees, educational courses and training.

NYC DDC is responsible for the design, construction and refurbishment of many of New York’s public assets, including parks, courthouses, fire stations, libraries and police precincts.

Its portfolio of assets is valued at close to $10 billion, and New York itself (pictured) is forecast to spend over $100bn on construction over the next three years.

“Here at DDC, we want to encourage and support every member of our staff to reach their full potential through training and development,” said the DDC’s commissioner, Dr. Feniosky Peña-Mora FCIOB.

“Our partnership with CIOB is an important step to helping us achieve this goal and promoting overall growth for our agency.”

The agreement is the first of its kind for the CIOB outside the UK. It said the partnership would help New York stay on top of built environment challenges.

“The Department plays a vital role in delivering quality services that ensures one of the world’s most challenging cities keeps pace with the needs of its citizens,” said Bridget Bartlett, CIOB deputy chief executive.

“New York is a demanding environment and with its long history for iconic construction projects there is a need for skilled professionals to maintain that ambition well into the future.”

  • Disclaimer: The CIOB is the publisher of Global Construction Review