In light of the recent attention focused on the Westlawn project site, there’s a reason for optimism as the new buildings start to take shape. Beyond the brick and mortar, there’s opportunity for Milwaukee’s Black neighborhood in the form of contracts, jobs and paychecks for businesses and residents.
Innovative opportunity programming managed by the Housing Authority of the City of Milwaukee has been in place since 1998, and its impact can be seen firsthand at Westlawn.
“The Housing Authority of the City of Milwaukee (HACM) has been a major partner in the effort to increase the quality of life and opportunities for low-income, disadvantaged persons,” says Paul Williams, communications coordinator for the HACM. “Our Emerging Business Enterprise (EBE) program creates opportunities for the federally targeted group of minority and womenowned businesses.”
The EBE program has set an annual goal of awarding a minimum of 20 percent of contract dollars to EBE qualifying businesses. HACM is exceeding this goal at Westlawn with 39 percent EBE participation. According to Williams, since the project first started, 31 EBE contracts have been awarded for the Westlawn project.
“Of the EBE contracts awarded, 19 have gone to city of Milwaukee businesses and seven to metro-Milwaukee businesses,” says Williams. “We are working very hard to ensure that the economic benefits of the Westlawn redevelopment impact local businesses, EBEs and local workers.”
To date, the Housing Authority has also negotiated commitments from contractors to hire 83 low-income Milwaukee residents for full-time, solid paying jobs on site, and additional commitments will be negotiated as new contracts are awarded.
“These workers will be hired as part of the Housing Authority’s commitment to the US Department of Housing and Urban Development Section 3 program,” explains Williams. “The program works to ensure that qualified lowincome workers are given the opportunity to benefit from the project work. We are very committed to helping these employers meet these goals, and we are encouraging them to exceed the targets.”
Matching qualified workers with open positions can be difficult, particularly since certain openings require specific skill sets. To help meet current and future needs, HACM is working with the Wisconsin Regional Training Partnership/ BIG STEP program to identify qualified workers. The Housing Authority has also established a list for contractors to draw on throughout the duration of the project.
Westlawn was built in 1951 on Milwaukee’s northwest side and remains Wisconsin’s largest public housing development. During the decades since, the 75-acre development became distressed and a necessary target for redevelopment, both due to the need to provide improved housing and to integrate new concepts, such as expanded green space.
The project plans include landscaped green space along Lincoln Creek with an informal sports field, picnic shelters, community gardens and a bike path. These elements will also help the project qualify for LEED Neighborhood Development Certification.