SEEN FROM THE HILL : CAN WE PLEASE HAVE LESS PATRONAGE AND MORE HOUSING !

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^ The “repurposed” Ferdinand Building, icon of Dudley Square : nice at night — but not being done by a contractor of color despite promises made

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“We don’t have a gang, guns, drug problem. We have a nepotism, cronyism and patronage problem!”

This quote is from a man giving testimony at a Chicago own hall meeting, organized by Al Sharpton, to address gun violence. His words capture the outrage of living a marginalized and blighted life of poverty and despair in a land of plenty 
(http://www.breitbart.com/Big-Government/2013/12/21/Al-Sharpton-s-Chicago-Town-Hall-Erupts-into-Revolt-against-Machine-Politics).

Chicago’s struggles are all too familiar to the underserved neighborhoods of Boston. No truer words were spoken in Chicago, and so goes Boston: gangs, guns and drugs are not the blight, rather, nepotism, cronyism and patronage are the blight!

That blight, in the form of machine politics, ensured that a white-owned company, based outside Boston, was awarded work on the Ferdinand building, and developers claimed minority business (MBE) utilization for the project, giving them street cred as “do-gooders” in Dudley Square where roughly 85% of the population are people of color.

But S&F Concrete, a white firm out of Hudson Massachusetts, despite being a state registered MBE, is not a firm of color (http://www.s-f-concrete.com/pages/26/48).

The purpose of the Supplier Diversity Office (SDO) and the MBE website directory operated by our State (https://www.somwba.state.ma.us/businessdirectory/businessdirectory.aspx) is to register firms of color and firms headed by women that have been historically disenfranchised from participating in work opportunities across our state. How would state officials allow the integrity of this certification process to be gamed to benefit the largest concrete contractor in New England and the 16th largest concrete contractor in the US run by white males (the Frias brothers)?

How is the largest concrete contractor in New England, a firm that the city of Boston would never recognize as an MBE or a member of the disenfranchised, now deserving of work at Ferdinand as a business of color? S &F Concrete should never have been awarded work as an MBE! The impact of this policy has been devastating to our community and is unconscionable! Shame on city and state officials !

That devastation becomes painfully obvious if one considers only disenfranchised firms of color in Boston. MBE utilization at Ferdinand’s was less than 1% on $90 million dollars of construction work, not the reported 15%! Not to be taken as an outlier, similar projects such as 225 Centre Street in Jackson Square also claimed higher MBE utilization but came in at less than 1% 
(on a $53 million dollar project, with a goal of 25% MBE utilization). But then again, if our focus is gangs, guns and drugs, fundamentally the byproducts of the real blight of nepotism, cronyism and patronage, giving rise to a loss of millions that could help build struggling communities, how do we ever address the root cause of our pain and suffering?

The blight of nepotism, cronyism and patronage was evident in Menino’s administration with the appointment of Mike Monahan, union business manager of IEBW local 103, to the BRA board. Sadly, the practice continues in the Walsh administration’s selection of Mark Fortune, union business agent of Sprinkler Fitters Local 550, to the housing transition team. Why would these union leaders need to be part of development and housing initiatives for the city of Boston, other than to make sure such initiatives provided work for their members?

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^ patronage : Local 550 Sprinkler Fitters move onto the Mayor Walsh housing transition team, via their leader Mark Fortune.

The plague of nepotism, cronyism and patronage is not just a Boston problem, it’s a notional problem, as noted by the National Black Chamber of Commerce in a recent Banner article, highlighting the frustrations with trade unions in communities of color. (http://baystatebanner.com/news/2013/dec/04/massachusetts-building-trades-face-long-diversity-/?page=1).

– Despite their professed commitment to diversifying their ranks, none of the union or non-union building trades organizations will disclose the demographics of their workers – it’s impossible to manage what you don’t measure or have no metric for.
– Building trades are 99 percent male, 76 percent white and 67 percent suburban residents.
– Elected officials as well as civil rights organizations have too cordial a relationship with construction unions, making it harder to demand inclusiveness.
– Construction unions have consistently discriminated against black workers and contractors.
– Ninety-eight percent of all black construction firms are nonunion.
– Construction unions are a prime contributor to black unemployment.

The hypocrisy of inclusiveness in the trades is clear: we’re mostly white, male and avoid the hot mess of urban life. But that hot mess of urban life happens to be a place where a lot of good people call home and carve an existence in pursuit of the American dream.

If we think we’ll realize the American dream with more housing and development, where our advocacy and demand for accountability, gets silenced and reduced to soapbox rants and rabble-rousing (http://www.bizjournals.com/boston/real_estate/2013/11/bra-tries-to-keep-out-rabble-rousers.html?page=2
http://www.bizjournals.com/boston/real_estate/2013/11/menino-tell-boston-properties-compromise.html?page=all)
by a Menino-cultivated culture at the BRA that puts developer interests ahead of the community being served by development, that dream will never fulfill.

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^ Bartlett bus yard “repurposed” : renters yes, home buyers, not so much

To add insult to injury, community development corporation developers such as Nuestra Comunidad would have us believe they are partners in pursuit of that dream. However, their project at Bartlett Yard/Place, with all rental in the first phase of construction is in conflict with that dream. The data are very clear: more than 90% of all housing units in Roxbury are rental. We don’t need more rental housing. We need more opportunities for folks to buy and build wealth.

Yet the conversation is always more about rental housing and very often housing that’s steeply affordable because it’s subsidized, or market rate which completely obliterates folks in the middle. That’s not to say we don’t need both, we do. But we also need balance to our housing initiatives to stabilize our communities and come to grips with the elephant in the room: the high cost to build housing in Boston and a stubborn income gap that proves difficult to bridge buyers and sellers.

An example of this is the first phase of construction at Bartlett. Nuestra Comunidad will build 60 units of housing and retail space for a grocery store at a cost of $28 million dollars (
http://baystatebanner.com/news/2013/aug/14/demolition-set-begin-bartlett-yard/).
Adjusting out the space for the grocery store at about 15% of the project, 60 units of housing will cost roughly $397,000 each.

Using a monthly housing budget of 25% of family income, it’s pretty clear based on Census data that only 20% of Roxbury households can afford the nearly $ 400,000 price tag Nuestra has proposed, leaving 80% of Roxbury residents with an American dream unfulfilled.

When we random sample a six month period of home sales in Roxbury for 2013, we find a median price of $275,000. Market forces offered more affordability than Nuestra is offering, boosting the number of households that could afford to buy based on income from 20 % to 33%.Clearly Nuestra sees an opportunity in “Roxbury’s changing face” to develop the old bus yard at Bartlett (http://www.bizjournals.com/boston/print-edition/2013/11/15/roxburys-changing-face.html).

When will we end short term fixes that add more and more affordable housing projects (how much affordable housing can one community shoulder, and is the responsibility shared?) that destabilize, rather than sustain, a neighborhood, in the interests of real estate deals for corporations whose employees safely tuck in at night in their own communities when the gangs, guns and drug problems go, in full force, through our neighborhoods ?

It seems easy enough to invest in corporations, including community-development corporations that reap more that 85% of the funding for housing in Boston, often at the expense of nascent local businesses, firms of color, and firms headed by women. We rarely invest in our people; if we did, we’d realize that the moral course of action is to bridge the income gap to the American dream by means of : better schools and training; a more inclusive working class; and a vision of our future that doesn’t assume we’ll fail to educate all and fail to be inclusive.

Standing in the doorway of our progress is a political machine fueled by nepotism, cronyism and patronage. It’s big machine. It needs to be fed. And it’s always hungry for more!

Regards,

– Rodney / Seen from the Hill

2 thoughts on “SEEN FROM THE HILL : CAN WE PLEASE HAVE LESS PATRONAGE AND MORE HOUSING !

  1. Here are three facts about Roxbury’s housing market and Nuestra and Windale Development’s Bartlett Place that readers of the above post should know.
    1. Nuestra and Windale have been the premier developers of for-sale housing in Roxbury with over 250 homes sold since 1995, and we will continue that leadership at Bartlett Place because it is part of our shared mission. See my blog post on “How Homeownership Can Close the Racial Wealth Gap” at http://urlin.it/541ee. Roxbury has a very real homeownership gap; 23% of our housing units are owner-occupied compared to 34% for the entire city. http://urlin.it/565e6
    2. Nuestra and Windale will sell homes at Bartlett Place at prices affordable to moderate- and middle-income households with annual incomes approximately from $56,000 to $94,000. Roxbury has 2,974 households with incomes between $60,000 and $90,000. They can’t buy at today’s market-rate new construction prices which range up to $550,000 for a single family in Fort Hill. We have not announced specific sale prices. With a construction cost of approximately $400,000 per unit, we will raise the financing needed to write down prices of most homes below cost.
    3. Bartlett Place will be the largest community wealth-creation development in Roxbury’s history, with 129 for-sale homes, over 600 jobs created, over $40 million in MBE contracting and dozens of local small business opportunities. See our team’s Fact Sheet at http://urlin.it/55e81

    Windale Developers and Nuestra are hosting a community meeting on the upcoming mixed-income homeownership opportunities at Bartlett Place on Sunday, January 19, 2pm – 3pm (just before the Patriots game) at St. Marks Church on Townsend Street.

    1. Fact 1 is propaganda! Please state : of the 250 homes Nuestra has created, how many are deed-restricted and what portion of Nuestra’s total units holdings this represents. When you do the math, it’s obvious Nuestra is not a home builder, its specialty is as a community development corp. — affordable housing for folks snarled in the safety net, yearning to break free!

      Fact 2, more propaganda! Nuestra will not sell any homes in phase 1 at all. Any homes for sale have been planned for the final phase, if home selling happens at all. And that’s the issue with this development; it’s based on Nuestra, the affordable housing for folks snarled in the safety net, yearning to break free, not for the homeowner (see the petition against http://petitions.moveon.org/sign/tell-the-boston-zba-to).

      Fact 3: The wealth-creation that David Price and Nuestra claim remains to be seen, and therefore is still just that: a claim. As stated before, Nuestra’s plan for building wealth through home ownership at Atkins apartments has yet to be realized three years in. That’s a fact! Based on that, what confidence does anyone have that Nuestra will make good on similar wealth-building efforts at Bartlett? Given Nuestra’s history and track record, we have no confidence! For every person Nuestra puts up, from the extended Nuestra family, in support of the project at Bartlett (supporters, tenants, potential tenants, board members, business collaborators, elected officials with an agenda etc.), there are nearly two members of the Roxbury community who stand against the project! (http://petitions.moveon.org/sign/tell-the-boston-zba-to)

      As for wealth-building, how much of Nuestra’s plan is actually a transfer of wealth? Development of Bartlett grows the presence and capacity of Nuestra the organization, particularly given that phase one is all rental controlled by Nuestra. This real estate deal predominantly helps Nuestra. The home ownership claimed in phase one, will take seven years to transpire and, as such, really isn’t a commitment out of the gate of phase one. If the economy turns sour, those targeted units may never transition to home ownership. A sign that Nuestra and other CDCs serving the neighborhoods of Boston in need of an economic boost have sufficiently built wealth is a smaller and smaller CDC organization, not one with a larger foot-print! See the link provided by Nuestra. http://urlin.it/55e81

      “129 homes will be built and sold to homeowners, plus options to buy 48 additional homes after seven years”

      If renters given the “option” to buy choose not to buy, do we end the rental agreement, force these folks to move and sell the unit anyway? Moreover, “if” and “when” the economy gets better, before home ownership is back on the table, is not language of commitment!

      Non-commitment for wealth-building through home ownership is nothing new and not exclusive to Nuestra. Urban Edge pulled its commitment at Jackson Commons in Roxbury and JPNDC also pulled its commitment at 75 Amory Street in Jamaica Plain. Nuestra is NOT committed to home ownership in phase one and has said so publicly many times. That’s a fact and is why members of the community are petitioning to stop Nuestra from proceeding. Phase one is all rental, with the option of 48 units to transition to home ownership after seven years. 129 homes for sale will be available in the last phase. There is no misconception on the part of the community! We simply see lack of commitment by Nuestra for our community!

      With regard to jobs and MBE contracting, the community is encouraged by an MBE utilization goal of 60%. However, given a projected total cost of $140 million dollars for Bartlett and a projected MBE utilization cost of roughly $40 million, there is confusion when one does the math: $40 million/$140 million yields nearly 29% and is less than 1/2 the projected 60% MBE utilization.

      This calls into question the public declaration of a 50%-50% partnership between Nuestra and Windale. Presumably, the projected MBE utilization of $40 million dollars accounts only for construction costs of $67 million, leaving $73 million in soft costs. These represent fees for planners, engineers, lawyers, architects and the like. Firms of color and firms headed by women should be able to compete for this work as well.

      As construction work gets subcontracted out and any development fees due Nuestra that Windale does not share, Windale’s financial role and gain abate well below 50%, begging the question: what are the real partnership gains for Windale, a firm of color? Is the overhead and profit split fair down the middle? That’s the true test of a fifty-fifty partnership!

      Difficulty and consistency hitting MBE utilization goals aren’t new either. 323 housing units at Bartlett represent a large project; it’s instructive to ask how a firm of color in Windale ascends from not being qualified to bid on Nuestra’s Quincy Commons project, approximately 50 units on the corner of Quincy and Blue Hill Avenue, to being qualified for Bartlett. No firms of color were allowed to bid on the general contract for Quincy Commons. Another fact, and one that calls into question Nuestra’s consistency for supporting contracting firms of color. Is this support only important for highly visible projects Nuestra is responsible for?

      Based on documents provided by Nuestra from the RFP, http://urlin.it/55e82:

      “Create mix of new housing with range of building types, rental and ownership opportunities, with a “focus” on homeownership [Sect 3.2 goal 1] [Sect 4.2.2.A.2], in part to provide wealth creation.” The focus for housing at Bartlett is home ownership. With all units being rental, of which 60% are affordable to folks making less than 60% AMI and the remaining 40% market rate, phase one housing at Bartlett does not demonstrate a “focus” on home ownership, ergo Nuestra is not only NOT fully responding to the RFP, but is not establishing the principal housing initiative for Bartlett right from the start. That’s a fact!

      Nuestra is establishing housing at Bartlett fundamentally as an affordable housing project. That was never the intent of the framers of the RFP and community for Bartlett. The focus was always home ownership and as such Nuestra should lead with the focus. If Nuestra is unable to do that, they should step aside for a developer that can.

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