Philaphilia is one of my favorite blogs (maybe my most favorite blog!), and one of the things you notice as a Philaphilia reader is that NIMBY groups manage to get a whole lot of development projects shut down in Philly.
NIMBYs have managed to turn the process for obtaining a variance into a political ordeal, and under the old zoning code, they were able to force all kinds of projects to go through this process – effectively giving NIMBYs veto power over new buildings. The new code allows more projects to get built by-right, with no political interference, but recently members of City Council have been trying to roll back those changes. The effect would be more red tape and less new construction.
I think that’s the appropriate backdrop for this story about members of the Philly building trades union burning down a non-union construction project, and the past few months of stories about the Goldtex controversy.
Demand for multi-family housing in Philly appears to be pretty strong right now. That demand should translate into lots of new construction projects. And the resulting demand for construction workers should be a boon to members of the building trades union. But many of these construction projects face hyper-local opposition from neighbors, and right now its an open political question as to how much power City Council will give back to neighbors to veto development projects.
That is where the building trades unions should focus their political efforts.
Rather than fighting individual developers over whether individual projects will use union or non-union labor, the unions should be focusing on more total development – fast-tracking the approval process for construction, raising the cost of land speculation, eliminating regulatory curbs on the housing supply, and anything else you can think of that will boost the total amount of construction happening.
What’s so frustrating is that this is a live debate, happening right now, but the only pro-growth voices you see quoted in articles on these issues are planning nerd bloggers, developers and some academics. The interest group with the most to gain from more construction – the building trades – has been strangely quiet about this, at least in the press. Maybe they are lobbying behind the scenes or something?