What’s Wrong With Milwaukee’s Hiring Practices? Almost Everything

When the Housing Authority of the City of Milwaukee announced back in 2011 that they would be conducting an $82 million dollar rehab of the state's largest public housing development, Westlawn Gardens, everyone got their hopes up.

Environmentalists hoped for a “greening” of the complex. Local pastors and laid off construction workers hoped for a well-run Section 3 program that could move hundreds of minority and women workers into good-paying construction jobs.

The score two years later? Environmentalist 1, job seekers, 0. 

“It's too early to say what it all means, but we are going to be talking with federal authorities to ensure that this doesn't happen again.” said Rev. Willie Brisco last week in Milwaukee's Journal Sentinel.  Brisco and others, like civil rights hero Rev. Joe Ellwanger,  smelled something rotten early in the process and sought assistance from HUD. 

Last week, Brisco and his band of intrepid advocates, better known as MICAH, learned that they were able to create systemic change again, this time by taking the housing authority to task.
HUD released its 19-page letter of findings on the Westlawn Redevelopment project last week.  The team of five HUD officials conducted an incredibly thorough review of the Housing Authority of the City of Milwaukee's (HACM) use of  the Section 3 program.

It's a shame that HACM didn't spend as much time focusing what it would take to move the residents from the Westlawn into good paying jobs as they did “greening” the complex. Community gardens are great and getting Westlawn a LEED-ND certification is a worthy effort that will pay off through the decades as the complex reduces its energy use and carbon emissions. But when HACM is non-compliant on five out of the six measures that HUD audited, something has to change. Hopefully, Milwaukee's Section 3 remediation plan will look something like the creative solutions employed by the housing authorities of St. Paul and Chicago. 

But part the problem with Section 3 and with other employment regulations like Executive Order 11246 is that they need a rehab too. President Obama had committed to revisit workforce regulations this year, but so far progress seems to be stalled.

Gamaliel has launched a national campaign to push for an update of the regulations. It's great when there are groups on the ground like MICAH in Milwaukee and Metropolitan Congregations in St. Louis to ensure that mega-projects like the Mississippi River Bridge actually employ minority and women workers. But we need the federal government to provide consistent leadership on large infrastructure programs; mandating that when federal dollars are spent, people from the community benefit.

Gamaliel will be hosting a webinar on Section 3 and other important federal workforce regulations as part of its Jobs for All campaign at 4 p.m., Thursday, Sept. 26. For an invitation, email me: lbarrett@gamaliel.org.

(Photo by Daniel Orth CC BY-ND)

Laura Barrett is the executive director Interfaith Worker Justice.


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