starts on Monday, May 17.
Finally, pedestrians and motorists can look forward to a brand-new Nostrand Avenue with newly paved streets, improved traffic flow, new tree beds, safer sidewalks and an overall refreshed look.
The project is a huge undertaking worth a whopping $23.5 million. Residents will agree: It is an investment that is well worth it. But the question many want to know is, why have none of Bed-Stuy’s local residents been hired to work on the project?
“I mean, here we are with one of the highest unemployment rates in the city, and yet they couldn’t manage to hire not one person from the community,” protested a resident at the in April, following the presentation of Maria Centeno, director of the Office of Community Outreach and Notification for the Nostrand Avenue Project.
Then, resident after resident at the community board meeting stood up and demanded answers from the representatives at the Department of Transportation regarding why no local sub-contractors were hired for the multi million-dollar project.
According to CB 3 President Henry Butler, getting local residents hired on the big-stakes projects like the Nostrand Avenue re-design is something the board is working on. But the process is more complex than most would expect, and it requires a lot of planning and coordination.
“Obviously, I’m disappointed that we don’t have more work for our local residents on these sort of projects,” Butler told Bed-Stuy Patch. “But any company that works on these contracts must first be certified with the city."
Beginning in 2005, Mayor Bloomberg passed Law 129, requiring that all major municipal projects or city-led contracts retain a percentage of their sub-contracts for MWBE-certified companies. An MWBE is a Minority or Women-Owned Business Enterprise, a designation and certification granted by the city of a business’s fitness to do work with the city agencies.
But that’s the challenge: getting certified. The application process is long, detailed, rigorous and, many complain, intimidating. And so consequently, the pool of contractors who are MWBE-certified in Bed-Stuy is limited.
“The process is cumbersome,” said Butler. “And because of that, a lot of companies get intimidated, discouraged and give up because they feel like it’s too much of a hassle.”
So, to address the low numbers of MWBEs, the community board has started sponsoring workshops that bring out companies who already are MWBE-certified to walk other business through the process.
But still, that’s only one part of the battle. According to Butler, even when a company is MWBE certified, there’s no law to say they have to hire MWBE contractors from the community in which they work.
They can hire an MWBE firm from Harlem, the Bronx or Long Island, if they choose. Not to mention, a woman-owned business – minority or not -- also can fulfill the MWBE requirement.
However, according to Aissatou Bey-Grecia, a senior manager for workforce, strategies at a community employment office in Harlem, the community can, in fact, demand that a contractor hire locally.
Bey-Grecia points to a designation known as the Locally-based Business Enterprise (LBE). Similar to the MWBE certification, LBE is another certification, and both fall under New York City’s Local Law 129.
An LBE designation insures that a contractor uses a certain portion of his dollars on the workers directly from the community. The difference is, an LBE is not mandated; its inclusion in a contract has to be requested.
“It’s unfair and unconstitutional, as far as I’m concerned for someone to come in and make $300 million in a community, and not leave some of it for the people who live in that community,” said Bey-Grecia.
In fact, Bey-Grecia’s job at the firm where she works is to make certain that not only is an MWBE provision actualized, but also an LBE clause is built into all new construction projects that come into her coverage area in Harlem.
“It’s incumbent upon the community—not the City – to see to it that when someone asks for land use that involves municipal dollars, that a certain percentage of those dollars are allocated for community employment,” she said.
“So it’s up to the local governmental entities, the community board, the elected officials – anyone who is a shepherd of the community -- to insure that there is an LBE clause included in all new contracts and that the community get some sort of benefit.”
Butler said he was unfamiliar with the LBE designation.
“I’ve spoken to Comptroller John Liu, and he said you cannot force them to hire from the community where the project is being done,” said Butler.
“So what we’ve been doing now is trying to gather a list of all minority business that offer the types of trade skills that can be used on these projects and work on getting them MWBE-certified and then put them into a pool of people to choose from to offer some of these bigger firms.”
“But as far as the LBE, at this time, I have no response until I can do further research.”