NYCDDC suspends design work because of COVID-19 budget threats: Associations urge reversal

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New York City’s Department of Design and Construction (DDC) has extended the freeze on non-essential construction to architects working on public design projects as well.

The Architect’s Newspaper (AN) reports that DDC mandated in a March 26 letter to firms currently engaged in public design work: “You are directed to immediately halt all services being provided, or to be provided, under your Contract (including any task orders, change orders, amendments) with DDC, including all services provided by subcontractors and/or subconsultants.”

In other words, firms working on public projects have been ordered to stop, and they won’t be paid for work conducted after March 26 until the pause order has been lifted by the city, the published report says.

While most architects have migrated to a socially-safe “work from home” business practices, the reason for the stoppage is less to do with safety than with budgets, as the city anticipates a $7.4 billion tax revenue decline for the current and next fiscal year.

The DDC oversees projects across approximately 20 city agencies. However, because of budget concerns, the department was ordered by the city to suspend design work even though, as Architectural Record notes, these projects are typically funded through bonds and the money is set aside solely for their completion. “This is also the first time the city has put public design work on hold, as they continued to pay architects during the 2008 recession to help bolster small businesses (this move will likely hit small firms the hardest, as they will have to reorient their resources if they want to get paid),” AN reports.

“This decision wasn’t made by the DDC, but rather came from the mayoral level as part of a wider budget review and other departments were affected as well. Ben Prosky, executive director of the American Institute of Architects New York (AIANY), told AN, that “halting design work in such tumultuous times hurts not only architects, but engineers, the construction industry, and everyone else involved in such public projects.”

The American Council of Engineering Companies New York, AIANY, Building and Construction Trades Council of Greater New York, Building Trades Employers’ Association of New York City, New York Building Congress, and New York City Central Labor Council argued against the freeze in a letter sent to Mayor de Blasio and City Council Speaker Corey Johnson on April 2.

“Delays to work that can safely continue from our homes will further hinder our city’s recovery efforts and create challenges for middle-class New York families, including many union construction workers and MWBE architects, engineers, and general contractors.

“We strongly recommend that you allow design and construction work to continue to the maximum extent permitted under New York State guidance. Furthermore, we ask that all design and construction that has already occurred be compensated.”

“Design work now during a downtime means construction jobs in the future, and it will take that much longer for everyone involved to start moving things along again,” AN quoted Prosky as saying.

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