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Local News

Minority contracts a recurring theme at Joliet projects

JOLIET – The recent controversy over the level of minority contracting at the Water’s Edge housing development is not the first time the issue has been raised in Joliet.

In the past, the city of Joliet has been the target of complaints that not enough local minority contractors and workers get jobs on construction projects using public funds. This time, city officials have been turning up the heat on the Housing Authority of Joliet after getting complaints from local African-American contractors about the Water’s Edge development.

The $90 million subsidized housing project is being built in the middle of a low-income section of the city where most residents are African-American.

Mayor Bob O’Dekirk emphasized the location at a Tuesday city council meeting in which the council and officials from the Housing Authority of Joliet debated what could be done to get more local people on the job.

“We’re trying to solve a problem on that job site,” O’Dekirk said. “What can we do to get people from that neighborhood to work?”

By the end of about an hour of give-and-take between council members and HAJ officials, there was no sure answer.

The scene was reminiscent of past debates in which African-American contractors and workers have questioned city of Joliet procedures for city hiring and contracting on big projects.

The city has since changed its contracting procedures to give local contractors some preferences in bid awards, although the city has resisted minority quota systems.

HAJ officials and Carlson Construction, the Joliet-based company that is the general contractor on Water’s Edge, have insisted that they have tried to accommodate local minority contractors seeking work on the project.

HAJ Chief Executive Officer Michael Simelton said contracts have been rebid and minority contractors have been encouraged to bid.

“I think part of the concern that people are having is not understanding Section 3 and how it works,” Simelton said.

Section 3 is a federal regulation designed to give employment opportunities to residents in public housing and local communities when construction projects involve the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

According to HAJ, 13 percent of the work at Water’s Edge has been awarded to contractors or workers that qualify under Section 3. Eight percent of the contracts have gone to minority- or women-based businesses. Nearly 60 percent of the contract and employment has been local.

But James Foster, an African-American electrical contractor in Joliet, called the bidding procedures at Water’s Edge “a very misleading process.”

Foster got a contract at Water’s Edge, but he called it “a little piece of demolition work” that totaled $4,000 and netted him $2,500 after expenses.

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