An artist rendering of the waterfront residential development to be built at the former Beacon Chevrolet site on the Lynnway by Mimco Development. Image courtesy of Arrowstreet
By Thomas Grillo
A group of union and community organizers is calling on developers of a waterfront apartment project to use union labor and add affordable units to the $80 million project.
In a letter to Louis Minicucci Jr. and Arthur Pappathanasi, owners of the 14-acre former Beacon Chevrolet site on the Lynnway, the New Lynn Coalition requested a meeting to discuss union jobs and adding apartments Lynn residents can afford.
“It’s exciting that this project is happening in Lynn and we want to start a conversation about using union labor, adding affordable units and other community benefits,” said Jeff Crosby, president of the North Shore Labor Council, 50 local unions representing more than 18,000 members and executive director of the New Lynn Coalition.
He argues that while union labor is more expensive, the work is high quality and guaranteed. Unions understand they are competing with companies who will work for less and are willing to negotiate on price, he said.
“The building trades are willing to discount the rate,” he said.
And while Crosby acknowledged that the city has thousands of affordable units, he said Lynn residents are being squeezed and leaving the city for places like Haverhill where rents are lower.
“We’re talking about displacement, people are being driven out of Lynn by rising housing costs,” he said. “As much as 40 percent of Lynn residents are already housing poor, spending more than 30 percent of their income on rent or mortgage payments.”
Construction is expected to start next summer on one of the waterfront’s major developments. Plans for the 14-acre site include 348 apartments in two buildings with rents expected to be in the $2,000 range.
The project promises to transform the parcel across the street from the North Shore Community College site that has been vacant for more than three decades. When completed, it is expected to turn an eyesore into a world-class neighborhood complete with apartments offering sweeping ocean views and a nearby commuter rail station. The development team also plans to connect the walkway from the Lynn Heritage State Park to the Clocktower Business Center on the Lynnway.
Eric Loth, managing director of Minco Development, the North Andover developer of the project, said they recently received the letter and intend to meet with the group soon.
“We are sympathetic to their concerns,” he said. “But the city has been fairly adamant that they don’t want more affordable housing. It’s my understanding that 30 percent of the city’s housing stock is affordable and they have the feeling they’ve done their job. We agree that if we bring more housing opportunities into the city and people who spend money in the downtown, it’s a win for everyone.’
On union labor, he said his company has used some union labor at previous jobs.
“It’s an as-you-go issue,” Loth said. “Sometimes the union carpenters have a residential rate and they can be competitive. The bottom line is the market in Lynn is unproven and we have to be careful to control our costs.”
Mayor Judith Flanagan Kennedy said when it comes to private development, the government should be hands-off.
“We have zoning rules that are necessary, but other than that I don’t like the government imposing restrictions on a private investor using his land for a private development,” she said.
The mayor noted that the 71-unit Gateway Residences on Washington project expected to break ground this summer at the intersection of Washington and Sagamore streets will be union built and feature nearly all affordable dwellings.
“But it was the developer’s choice and I’m perfectly fine with that,” Kennedy said of the partnership between the development arm of the Lynn Housing Authority and Neighborhood Development and Boston developer Hub Holdings.
City Council President Daniel Cahill said he is willing to talk to the New Lynn Coalition about how to control the cost of housing in the region, but the Beacon Chevrolet project is a private development.
“From what I understand there are no city funds in the project and any discussion would have take place between the landowner and this group,” he said.
City Councilor Brian LaPierre, who also serves as a local organizer for the American Federation of Teachers, said he hopes to convince Minco to follow the lead of the Gateway Residences on Washington development team by using union labor.
“I hope this would be the practice going forward that we have project labor agreements in the city,” he said. “I am for community benefit agreements that would be helpful to communities like Lynn.”
Thomas Grillo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.