By Curtiss Harris & Wallace White
Within recent months, two major issues have been brought to the attention of the Milwaukee community, with both issues having a major relationship to the African American community:
1) The findings that the Housing Authority of the City of Milwaukee (HACM) was in absolute noncompliance with Section 3 of the federal department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) which requires hiring of housing authority residents for jobs created by funding from (HUD).
2) The settlement of the law suit brought by the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of Wisconsin (HCCW) and the American Indian Chamber of Commerce (AICC) against the City of Milwaukee for not establishing a contracting goal for Hispanics and American Indians as part of contracting requirements included in Chapter 370 of the city ordinances which created a race based affirmative business program.
During the past two years, HACM spent over $80 million rebuilding a part of the Westlawn housing development.
As part of the receipt and expenditure of that money, HACM was supposed to comply with Section 3 of the HUD regulations, which required the employment of public housing residents on jobs created by the funds.
At the beginning of the project, HACM and the Mayor were told that there was no evidence that there was compliance with Section 3 by Milwaukee Inner City Congregations Allied for Hope (MICAH).
HACM staff insisted that there was compliance and blew off the charge.
HACM was also questioned about Disadvantaged Business Enterprise (DBE) participation, particularly as it related to African American firms. MICAH was assured that HACM was and would continue to be in compliance on that factor.
A group of organizations, lead by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), filed a non-compliance lawsuit with HUD (Dept of Housing & Urban Development) asking that an audit of the Westlawn project be done. After that audit by HUD, the findings were that HACM was not in compliance with Section 3 which requires that local housing authority residents and local contractors be included in the construction of Westlawn. HUD found no hiring from Westlawn or any other HACM housing development project constructed in the city.
In addition, based on annecdotal evidence, African American businesses did not fare well but no findings were published to show the level of deficiency.
The response from HACM’s, executive director Tony Perez has been very disingenuous, giving reasons for noncompliance that are totally unacceptable, boarding on the ridiculous. Staff incompetence has been given as a reason, couched in the notion that staff was not well trained by HACM in the application of Section 3 and their process did not lead to what they were supposed to accomplish.
The public, particularly the African American community is outraged.
We are being lead to believe that we should expect and accept so little from HACM. In reality, top staff at HACM should be fired immediately for not doing their jobs.
Relative to the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce (HCCW) law suit, first let’s establish that the origination of affirmative business programs was because of the historic racial discrimination against the descendants of African slaves in America.
Therefore, it leads to reason that the remedy for ameliorating that discrimination should be directed at that group and should be raced based.
Because of the lawsuit by the HCCW and the American Indian Chamber of Commerce (AICC) and settlement of that suit, the proposal was to be considered by the City of Milwaukee Common Council to eliminate race and gender as a part of any affirmative business program. This is the wrong direction to go. Given that the City Attorney Grant Langley settled with HCCW and the AICC, the suggestion is that the City Attorney is in agreement with the HCCW and the AICC, which is in keeping with the long historical opposition by the City Attorney to have a race based solution to the problem of fair contracting and procurement by the city of Milwaukee. However, this issue does not just relate to the City Attorney.
Mayor Barrett has not been aggressive on proposals to turn the tide on many of the disparities that impact the African American community.
Race is a major problem in Milwaukee and it is time to do more than talk about it which appears to be the Mayor’s approach while continuing the benign neglect of the African American community.
The Mayor once said, that if the African American community needs his help in making a stronger African American business community then we need to make him do it, well the time has come for us to force his hand.
Either, the Mayor is going to help make the situation better or we need to elect a new Mayor and a new City Attorney to rid this city of the institutionalized racial discrimination that keeps us segregated by design.
Citizens in the African American community must speak out in outrage at the sheer mistreatment and disrespectfulness that is being shown to our community.
They have also labeled us as a community that will not stand up for ourselves because we are so bogged down with everyday financial and social drama, and trying to survive, that we don’t have the time to come and stand on their necks to make them give our community its fair share of the resources.
The African American community represents over 50% of the population of the City and they think they can get away with mistreating us.
This community needs each and every one of us to stand up and raise our voices against this disrespectful treatment.
The City of Milwaukee and many other organizations in this community go after federal and foundation dollars based on the poverty levels in this city but the people who are impoverished don’t get to see a dime of it.
How are we suppose to assist our community when the money and resources are being drained by people who don’t live here and people who don’t look like us for that matter, but the money is brought here to help with the conditions of poverty?
Poverty has gotten worst over the last 15 years in this city.
Stop letting the Mayor and elected officials smile in your face while they basically steal away the resources that are brought into this city to help assist those who are in need, but then turn around and give it to those who are not in need.
The unemployment rate is so high because others are being taken care of while our people are left out in the cold.
Institutional racism and cronyism run so deep in this city and we stand ready to work with anyone who is interested in solving this problem so that there is inclusion for all taxpayers.