^ 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
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?
^ 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
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.
^ 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 (
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!
– Rodney / Seen from the Hill