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The Evanston Black Business Association has planned a protest rally for 3 p.m. next Saturday, Oct. 9, at Lake Street Church, 607 Lake St. Members said the group will use the event as a forum to demonstrate to the community that local contractors, particularly minority contractors and those located in the Fifth and Eighth wards, may not receive their fair share of work in the major federally funded purchase/rehab effort in those wards.
The City has received $18 million in Neighborhood Stabilization Program (NSP2) funds to purchase and rehab 100 vacant and foreclosed homes in Evanston and return them to the market at prices deemed affordable under Housing and Urban Development Department (HUD) guidelines.
The City’s private partner and general contractor for the project is Northbrook-based Brinshore Development. Brinshore will control the money, the acquisitions and the sub-contracting process.
City officials say the company has committed to abiding by City of Evanston guidelines for hiring minority-owned, women-owned or Evanston-based companies for at least 25 percent of the work. EBBA is nonetheless apprehensive about the amount of work its members will receive and is inviting the community to the Oct. 9 protest rally. They are also asking residents of the Fifth and Eighth wards and anyone who lost a home in a foreclosure to attend.
By the date of the rally, EBBA members and other local contractors will have learned whether they have been hired in the first round of rehab work. Regardless of the outcome, EBBA members and possibly others say they will speak at the Oct. 11 City Council meeting in the hope of influencing City officials to change the employment terms of the contract with Brinshore.
EBBA member Lonnie Wilson said, “[City officials] feel that any change will derail the program. Enough political and neighborhood pressure would cause HUD to put the brakes on the process.
Bennett Johnson, another EBBA member, said, “We met with [a director] of HUD and he said there is no jeopardy in all we are doing [the demonstration and protests].”
Mr. Johnson also suggested taking the issue to the City Council meeting. “Everyone should show up at City Council land fuss at them for about an hour. … We are black entrepreneurs who are trying to live the capitalist dream, and here comes the City and gives $14 million to one dude who lives in Northbrook,” he said.
City officials have said the application for the NSP2 funds required the City to choose a private partner with a record of managing large projects, and the City chose Brinshore Development. The company will also be in charge of the acquisition of the properties.
Under the terms of the grant, 25 percent of the work must go to contracting companies that are owned by minorities or women or companies based in Evanston. Another percentage of the work should go to contractors in the target areas. Dennis Marino, assistant director of community and economic development for the City, told the RoundTable that Brinshore has committed to meeting “at least” 25 percent hiring requirement.
A second opportunity comes through a HUD requirement called “Section 3,” Sarah Flax, community development block grant administrator for the City, said. “Section 3 employment is aimed at the target area. … It promotes area businesses in those two census tracts,” she said. An individual or a business with income less than 80 percent of the area median income (AMI) can apply to be certified as a Section 3 business or employee, Ms. Flax said.