New York City—COVID’s Epicenter—Moves Forward with Construction

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Robison Wells

After saying that all construction workers were essential in the time of crisis, the city of New York (which, at the time of writing, has seen more than 7,000 deaths from COVID-19) has eased off of that decision and has taken a much more cautious approach—one that is hurting the construction business.

Last week, the City’s Department of Buildings, which is responsible for managing the governor’s “essential worker” designation, released a map showing exactly which projects in the city were truly essential and which were nonessential, with the warning that “noncompliance will lead to a violation and fines of up to $10,000.”

But even though construction companies are busy at work to make sure their workers have the necessary equipment and training to be safe on the job site (especially finding masks, an ever-increasing challenge) the day after the Department of Buildings’ order took place they received 900 appeals from contractors trying to keep their workers on the job.

“There’s a feeling that not everybody is being treated the same,” said Steve Kliegerman, the president of Halstead Property Development Marketing, which works with many developers. “You’re hearing, ‘Why is it fair that they can continue and I can’t?’”

One area that has been able to continue their work is the affordable housing market, which is still listed as essential, while other housing projects, such as luxury condos, are being shuttered.

“We are in dialogue with agencies about what work can continue past this week,” said Ziel Feldman, chairman of HFZ Capital Group, the XI’S developer. “It’s all about the health of the individual worker. If the powers that be think it’s unsafe for people to continue working, then of course, that’s everybody’s priority.”

“Spirits are reasonably high,” one developer said, “but everyone is nervous about how long this will last.”

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