By Seth Daniel
One of the bigger votes of the year for the Chelsea City Council will go down on Monday night, April 24, when the body is faced with the question of approving a Home Rule Petition that will allow the public/private redevelopment of the Central Avenue housing development (Innes) to go forward as an open shop – meaning it may not be all union.
If approved, the second leg of the process would be sending it to the State House for approval by the Legislature.
Cheslea Housing Authority (CHA) Director Al Ewing said the project, which is in partnership with Corcoran Jennison Development, needs to have the flexibility to not be an all-union project. That, he said, requires that the Council vote to send the waiver to the State House.
“There are two groups we support – poor people and working class people,” said Ewing. “We find ourselves in a very difficult position on this project. That’s why we need the support of our City Council…to make sure our CHA residents are not left out of the building boom in Chelsea…This is our opportunity to support 96 families and preserve and improve 96 units of affordable housing.
“In order to be able to do this, we have to be able to work with the unions,” he continued. “We’ll certainly have it open to all bids. It’s not an issue of prevailing wage or unions. It’s only trying to find a way to build these units and build them in a way that is clear reasonable.”
He said that if the Council rejects the Home Rule petition, the deal likely cannot be done.
“There’s no federal money in this or any Section 8 vouchers committed,” he said. “There’s just not enough funding in the deal to make it work.”
The Home Rule petition will allow the project, which is as much private as it is public, to be able to abide by the bidding rules of a private project. In public projects, there are more stringent rules around union labor agreements, making costs higher. This being a combination of a public/private project, there is some grey area.
At a Council meeting earlier this month, some union representatives were in attendance and had concerns.
Rich Pedi of the Carpenter’s Union said they have concerns and they are looking at the issue.
However, he said they aren’t yet taking a stand and may have something to say on Monday night.
Meanwhile, Tony Hernandez, a Chelsea resident and member of the Painter’s Union, said he was conflicted.
He said he had concerns about a project that’s so big going open shop.
“On one hand I want to make sure the poorest families in Chelsea can improve their housing, but I also want to protect workers and working families who built their lives on union labor,” he said.
In the call for a hearing at that meeting, no City Councillors spoke up for or against.
Councillor Damali Vidot did clarify that she had consulted City Solicitor Cheryl Fisher Watson about voting on the issue, due to the fact that her mother works for the CHA. She has been cleared from any conflict of interest.
Others seem to be mulling the decision, with some councillors resolute to vote in favor, and others holding their cards close to the vest.
The vote is expected to take place at the City Council meeting on Monday at 7 p.m.