By James H. Hall
President NAACP Milwaukee Branch
The question is often and repeatedly raised as to why joblessness and unemployment are so high in Milwaukee’s African American community, particularly as to African American males; why entrepreneurial opportunities for minorities here are documented as among the lowest in the nation; and why racial disparities here are among the greatest in the nation.
While there are many factors, the recent Federal review and findings regarding the Westlawn Project point to an important part of the answer.
These findings by the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) that the Housing Authority of the City of Milwaukee (“HACM”) failed to comply with Section 3 requirements with respect to the WestLawn Project are very significant.
Section 3 is a provision that requires recipients of HUD funds to provide training, employment and contracting opportunities to low income and very low income residents as well as businesses that are owned by or employ such individuals.
HACM received over 230 million dollars from HUD between 2009 and 2012, including over 60 million in connection with the Westlawn Project.
The HUD investigation resulted in finding that HACM did not comply with the Section 3 requirements on the Westlawn Project in a number of material areas. This included findings that HCAM:
• Inaccurately stated the criteria in a manner that exempted small contracts (under $50,000 or $100,000) from the requirements
• Failed to implement procedures to recruit and hire Section 3 workers or to track inquiries
• Failed to require contractors and subcontractors to post signs with information about vacancies and the application process
• Failed to connect contractors and subcontractors to a job-readiness program
• Failed to properly train
• Provided inaccurate reporting information
• Did little, if any, outreach to Section 3 business concerns
• Did not include a Section 3 clause in its contracts and subcontracts
The review identified similar failures relating to both contracting and employment regarding contracts other than Westlawn.
These failures at Westlawn were shared by HACM, Hunzinger Construction Company, the general contractor at Westlawn and Prism Technical and Marketing Services, the firm hired to promote diversity and monitor compliance on the project regarding Section 3 and other programs.
The NAACP Milwaukee Branch has asserted in statements and in a complaint filed in June 2012 with the United Stated Department of Justice (“DOJ”), that the City fails to comply with Section 3, as well as other requirements for participation and inclusion of African Americans and other minorities in City contracting and employment opportunities.
This is specifically why the NAACP has called for a compliance audit regarding Section 3 and other applicable provisions.
We commend MICAH for its advocacy on this issue and we join and fully support efforts to obtain an adequate and appropriate resolution in this matter.
We would urge and expect the City to move swiftly to take steps to address these deficiencies and to provide a remedy.
Let us be clear – these are real jobs, contracts and opportunities that have been lost.
How do you remedy lost opportunity?
We renew our call for an audit of compliance by the City with respect to Section 3 for projects other than Westlawn and with respect to requirements other than those imposed by Section 3.
We believe that these findings may be the “tip of the iceberg.”
Separately, the City of Milwaukee has taken steps to repeal its ordinance designed to ensure the participation of minority contractors in City contracting opportunities.
This action was taken as a result of a lawsuit by the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce that challenged the ordinance.
The NAACP Milwaukee Branch agrees with the African American Chamber of Commerce and others in calling upon the City to determine and implement a participation requirement that is legally enforceable and effective to address the participation deficit experienced by African Americans and others with respect to City contracts.
In our complaint filed with DOJ, NAACP pointed out the fact that the City has failed to develop and implement an effective participation program, notwithstanding that it has spent approximately a million dollars over the past 25 years on disparity studies.
The NAACP will continue to work collaboratively with MICAH and other organizations and individuals as well as representatives of the City of Milwaukee, toward these ends.
James H. Hall, Jr., President
NAACP Milwaukee Branch