Tuesday, January 31, 2012

home improvement, system D-style

This New York Times article offers a peep at an interesting and progressive program in New York. Rather than reporting unlicensed construction firms to the authorities, the Queens Economic Development Corporation is trying to help them out, teaching them the skills required to pass the licensing test for home improvement contractors given by the city's Department of Consumer Affairs. Interestingly, despite the size of the Chinese community in NYC and their involvement in real estate in many neighborhoods, the city only offers the 30-question multiple choice test in English, Spanish, Korean and Bengali.

This program is a great idea--giving previously illegal contractors a route to legality. But it also raises some issues about the licensing test. For instance, how important is it for contractors to know that, for jobs that cost less than $200, they don't need a license. Or that they must keep their contracts on file for 6 years. Or that they can't start work on a job until 3 days after they sign the contract. Should the test really be administrative--or should it check whether these contractors really know the city's building code? And, speaking of the code, why, for small residential jobs, is bamboo scaffolding, which Chinese contractors have used successfully for years, illegal in New York?

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