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At every site, if essential or emergency non-essential construction, this includes maintaining social distance, including for purposes of elevators/meals/entry and exit. Sites that cannot maintain distance and safety best practices must close and enforcement will be provided by the state in coordination with the city/local governments. This will include fines of up to $10,000 per violation.Under his initial PAUSE shutdown directive, Cuomo had classified all types of construction sites as being “essential” along with banks, grocery stores, pharmacies, and the like. This, in turn, meant it was largely business as usual at building sites across the state although workers were instructed to follow difficult-to-enforce social distancing practices while on the job. Cuomo, however, faced considerable pushback from construction workers and their families along with city leaders, notably City Council members Carlos Menchaca and Brad Lander along with New York City Public Advocate Jumaane Williams.
“Anything that is not directly part of the essential work of fighting coronavirus and the essential work of keeping the city running and the state running, and any construction that is not about the public good, is going to en,” New York City Mayor de Blasio clarified on WNYC’s The Brian Lehrer Show following Cuomo’s announcement. “So, luxury condos will not be built until this is over, you know, office buildings are not going to be built so that work's going to end immediately. We need to protect people.” The day before Cuomo ordered work to be halted on all nonessential construction projects, the New York Times published an article detailing how laborers in the city were being exposed to conditions that, although likely to raise very few eyebrows during ordinary circumstances, seemed downright perilous as a deadly, highly contagious rages through New York and beyond:
It is essential right now to build new hospital capacity.It is NOT essential right now to build new condos. @cmenchaca is right in calling for a moratorium on (non-crisis-response-related) construction work. https://t.co/66f8Pg1oxB — Brad Lander (@bradlander) March 16, 2020
“Construction sites, even during normal times, are notoriously dirty. Workers often share a single portable toilet, which rarely has soap or hand sanitizer. Running water is not common. None of the recent safety protocols recommended by public health officials are practical at a job site, workers said. They share tools, and procedures require that they closely watch over one another. There is no social distancing. Some workers wear protective masks, which are in short supply.”Cuomo’s directive also came after work on two infrastructure projects considered essential by the ESDC, the overhauls of LaGuardia Airport and at Moynihan Station, came grinding to a temporary halt when workers at both sites tested positive for COVID-19. Although initially not wholly supportive of a Boston-style moratorium on construction due to the so-called “devastating” economic impact, Carlo Scissura, president of trade group New York Building Congress and former president and CEO of the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce, has since thrown his support behind Cuomo’s updated directive. “The health and safety of building industry workers and every New Yorker remain the highest priority as we continue to respond to this pandemic,” said Scissura in a statement obtained by the New York Post. “Just as the governor has outlined, we must carry on with New York’s most critical projects, from infrastructure and public works to healthcare and affordable housing. These projects are essential to our region’s future and will benefit our most vulnerable populations.” Some have pointed out a not-so-tiny loophole, however, in the ESCD’s new guidelines, specifically with regard to the construction of affordable housing. The exemption that allows for work on affordable housing projects to continue doesn't just apply to project that are strictly affordable; rather, work on residential developments with at least 20 percent affordable housing can proceed. This, in turn, means that a lion’s share of residential constructions projects in New York are essentially off the hook.
“While this page would otherwise feature updates on non-roadway and nonresidential mega-projects valued at around $1B or more, it's unlikely we'll see many changes to these projects that are unrelated to the pandemic for the foreseeable future. Any noteworthy projects that do take a stance on continuing work in areas where others have been shut down will also be updated, but not included on the coronavirus closure’s section of the map.”While the map isn’t overcrowded quite yet, it’s not entirely unrealistic to think that in the coming days and weeks it will be filled with frozen construction sites in a wide range of geographic locales. Projects that do appear on the map include halted expansion and renovation projects at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida; a shutdown of work at a “multibillion-dollar cracker plant” in Beaver County, Pennsylvania; and the shutdown of all commercial construction projects across the San Francisco Bay Area. As mayors and governors scramble to shield all segments of the population from the deadly and highly infectious COVID-19 with little or no direction from the federal government, there has been some pushback from industry leaders in cities where work has fully or partially come grinding to a halt. “The safety of all workers is critical, but I think that we have to be very careful to shut down,” Carlo Scissura, president and CEO of the New York Building Congress, recently told Bisnow in response to Boston’s total shutdown. “A lot of that construction is for people who are going to need services and support in the months to come as things start reopening.” Noting that fully stopping construction in Boston could impede the city in preparing for future natural disasters, Stephen Sandherr, CEO of Associated General Contractors of America, also told Bisnow that construction workers are already largely prepared to work in the midst of a pandemic considering the protective clothing that they’re required to wear while on-site. As of this writing, construction projects are continuing full-steam ahead in New York City. However, some city leaders—among them are New York City Council members Carlos Menchaca and Brad Lander and Public Advocate Jumaane Williams—are urging Mayor de Blasio to enact a rule that would temporarily curtail all commercial and residential commercial construction projects. Like with Boston, there’d be exceptions for crucial infrastructural work, emergency repairs, and the like. “Construction is a core component of New York City’s economy, and this is a drastic and painful call,” wrote Menchaca, Lander, and Williams in a recent letter to de Blasio. “At this urgent moment, however, it is necessary as part of our social distancing policy, to slow the spread of the virus, give our health care system a chance to meet the dire need that is growing, and save lives.” Industry leaders including Louis Coletti, president of the Building Trades Employers Association, have called on both city leaders and New York Governor Andrew Cuomo to categorize construction sites as an “essential” businesses that would remain open along with banks, pharmacies, medical facilities, and grocery stores during a shelter-in-place mandate.
Mayor Martin J. Walsh announced Monday that the moratorium on construction work would go into effect on Tuesday, March 17, and construction sites need to be secured by March 23.
Walsh’s action comes after he declared a public health emergency in Boston, postponed the Boston Marathon, and canceled the St Patrick’s Day Parade over infection concerns. It makes Boston one of the first cities or districts in the U. S., other than those in complete lockdown or quarantine, to ban construction activity as a way of fighting the coronavirus. The move comes at a time when the city and region are booming with construction activity, from affordable housing to high-rise office buildings. Walsh did not say how long work will be suspended, but he indicated it’s likely to be at least 14 days.
“Effective tomorrow, Tuesday, March 17, 2020, we are suspending all regular activity on construction sites in the city of Boston,” Walsh said in a briefing yesterday. “The only work that we are anticipating right now moving forward in the city will be emergency work” approved by the city’s Inspectional Services Department.
“These decisions that we make are not easy, but they’re out of an abundance of caution,” he added. “It’s about protecting the worker and preventing the spread of the coronavirus.
“This is a critical time for us right now… I think if we can prevent the spread from happening and try and level the virus off, we’ll be in a better position long term.”
The mayor said he didn’t have an exact figure for how many construction projects are affected by his order, but he knows it is substantial.
“It’s massive, massive,” he said at the briefing. “I don’t have a number. It’s tens of thousands. We’re in the middle of a boom right now, and…today is a difficult decision to make… Construction is at the core of our economy here in Boston. I come out of the trades. I was a construction worker myself. This is something that is very personal to me and to a lot of us.”
Mayor Walsh added that city officials will monitor the situation closely to determine when the moratorium can be lifted.
“Out of an abundance of caution, we ‘re looking at 14 days potentially, and then we’ll revisit it and hopefully they can be the first workers back to work.”
The moratorium is “something that we’re going to be monitoring literally week to week,” he said at another point. “Hopefully, in the next couple of weeks, we’ll be able to change the policy. But right now, out of an abundance of caution for the workers on the job site and to prevent spreading the virus, we want to make sure those workers are safe.”
According to a statement posted on the city’s website, the city is instructing employers to “maintain necessary crews to keep their sites safe and secure, keep any materials from blowing away, and prevent trespassing. This work needs to be completed in the next week, by Monday, March 23, 2020.” Once sites have been secured, the message said, skeleton crews will be permitted on site “for the remainder of the suspension” to ensure safety, but no construction activity can take place.
Walsh said Boston has 33 confirmed cases of Boston residents with COVID-19 as of Monday, March 16, and the construction moratorium is part of a multifaceted effort to address the spread of coronavirus.
“The coronavirus is one of the greatest public health challenges that our city has ever faced,” he said at a press briefing. “Our primary objective right now is to slow the spread and flatten out the curve so that our medical centers don’t get overwhelmed. This strategy is crucial to helping our most vulnerable residents and make sure that we can rebound from this as soon as possible.”
According to Walsh’s order, the only exceptions to the construction ban are: “emergency utility, road or building work,” such as repairing gas leaks, water leaks and sinkholes; new utility connections to occupied buildings, mandated building or utility work; work that “ensures the reliability of the transportation network,” work on facilities that support “vulnerable populations,” and work needed to make occupied buildings “fully habitable.”
Walsh said the city may make exceptions on a case-by-case basis for “essential” projects that “support increased public health and safety.” But he said new projects cannot be started after March 17, unless approved by the city. In his briefing, Walsh said he hopes employers don’t fire their employees as a result of his action.
“I want to remind Boston employers that we’re in a robust construction market,” he said. “Boston is home to a talented, hard-working construction workforce and when we get back to work as usual, employers need to bring these workers back and the right thing that we need to do right now is to lay them off and not fire them.”
Meanwhile, one state away, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said he wants to increase construction of at least one type of building, medical facilities, and he wants the federal government to do it.
“Let’s bring in the Army Corps of Engineers and let’s start building temporary medical facilities because we know we’re going to need them,” Cuomo told CNN. “As many as we produce, if we started today, as many as we can produce, we would need twice.”
Cuomo said he has confidence in the Army Corps of Engineers to move quickly and complete projects that individual states need but don’t have the resources to take on. New York State has one of the highest volume of confirmed cases of coronavirus in the United States, more than 600 people.
“The Army Corps of Engineers builds. I used to be in the federal government. I worked with the Army Corps of Engineers. They build bridges. They build airports. They’re builders. They’re engineers… They build. Let them come in, build with me.”
Cuomo also said he can identify state-owned properties that can be retrofitted to accommodate coronavirus patients. “I’ll find an old dormitory, an old nursing home. Let’s convert it to a hospital and let’s do it quickly so we have some backup space when the wave crashes on the health care system.”