JOLIET – Homes are going up and leasing will start soon, but the long-running controversy over minority hiring at the Water’s Edge housing project is not yet settled.
Mayor Bob O’Dekirk told the Housing Authority of Joliet board Wednesday that the city wants to see more minority workers and contractors on the job.
“If we have to lean on the contractor, that’s what we have to do,” O’Dekirk told the board at one point.
The authority board passed a resolution to push the issue with general contractor Carlson Construction of Joliet and assigned two board members to meet with the company.
Mark Carlson, co-owner of Carlson Construction, meanwhile, said there are “lots of minorities on the job site,” but they are predominantly Hispanic.
The city and authority have been getting complaints from African-American contractors and workers for more than a year that not enough local companies and workers were being hired for the project, which is being built in a predominantly African-American neighborhood.
“I drive by that site every day, and I don’t see a lot of minority workers,” O’Dekirk told the housing board. “The city is asking the board to tell the contractor to find a way to put minority workers on that job site.”
Authority Vice Chairman Angel Contreras and Commissioner Glenda McCullum were named to a committee that will include staff and meet with Carlson Construction regarding the hiring issue.
“We’re going to be meeting with the general contractor sometime next week to see how we can remedy that,” Contreras said after the meeting.
Carlson said his company does not control who subcontractors hire but has tried to reach out to minority subcontractors.
“We’ve been doing our best to hire as many minority contractors as possible out there,” he said. “We’re definitely making inroads.”
Carlson said in the fall his company rebid contracts that had not been awarded in an attempt to attract minority bidders.
“We didn’t get any bids,” he said.
Many of the workers at the site have been Hispanic, Carlson said.
“Our subcontractors – that’s who they tend to hire,” he said.
Some minority contractors that have gotten contracts for work that has not yet been done on the site, he said. He was reluctant to identify the race of the subcontractors.
“We didn’t hire them based on whether they were African-American or Hispanic-American,” he said. “We hired them based on their qualifications.”
First homes open in May
The hiring controversy is heating up as Hope Bound Development Corp., the nonprofit created to develop Water’s Edge, prepares to begin leasing the first units, which are expected to open in May.
Water’s Edge is a subsidized, mixed-income subdivision of 68 single-family houses and town houses that will replace the 122 apartments at the Des Plaines Garden Homes complex that was torn down last year.
Several homes are under construction on the north end of the property, located along Wallace Street between Des Plaines and Water streets.
The authority already has started pre-leasing activity by contacting former Des Plaines Garden residents to see if they are interested in moving into Water’s Edge, said John Chow, chief of development and operations.
Des Plaines Garden residents received Section 8 vouchers, providing subsidies to live elsewhere. But they have the first rights of refusal to move into the new development.
Chow presented a schedule showing Water’s Edge homes opening every month from May through November with all units expected to open before the end of the year. Five units are scheduled to open in May.