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Garfield Project a Landmark in City Hiring Practices

Garfield Commons is the latest transformation of outmoded public housing into privately managed, mixed-income units, but it is not just another upgrade. It represents possibly the most ambitious adherence to minority and low-income hiring standards in the city’s history.

More than seven years after the Garfield Heights 14-story high-rise slumped into an imploded heap above Mossfield Avenue, the 45-acre property that once also housed 58 three-story apartment buildings run by the Pittsburgh Housing Authority is in the final phase of new construction and almost completely leased.

The Commons — a mixed-income community of 215 townhouses and 10 detached single-family homes on a network of streets that include Mossfield, North Aiken and Fern — is the latest replacement of 1940s-1960s-era outposts of poverty known as the projects.

But its most notable distinction is the percentage of minority- and woman-owned businesses contracted to work on it and the number of low-income workers they hired — more than 50, both skilled and unskilled laborers from Garfield and surrounding neighborhoods, said Tisha Germany, Assistant Vice President of KBK Enterprises.

In fact, the housing authority’s choice of KBK to develop the property was its single largest contract to a minority-owned business. KBK owns and co-manages Garfield Commons with Wallick Properties. Both are based in Columbus, Ohio.

Michelle Jackson, the housing authority’s chief community affairs officer, said 41 public housing residents worked on the construction of Garfield Commons and that, overall, the development featured the largest number of Section 3 employment in the city’s history.

Under Section 3 of the Housing and Urban Development Act of 1968, companies that benefit from HUD assistance for low-income housing and community development must make “to the greatest extent feasible” hiring opportunities for low-income residents and businesses and submit compliance documents to prove they did.”

Of 33 subcontractors, 21 were minority- and woman-owned businesses — which together completed $25 million of the $100 million project, according to the housing authority.

“A lot of subcontractors don’t have new hire opportunities,” Ms. Germany said, “but a lot of ours opened their doors to new hires anyway.”
Melody Taylor, director of the office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity for HUD’s Region 3, said the onus is on the housing authority to notify residents of employment opportunities and to document how many are hired. She said improving Section 3 compliance has been a “priority initiative” at HUD.

The federal agency monitors for compliance and also monitors to ensure workers are earning the prevailing wage, Ms. Germany said. That wage ranges from $15 an hour for laborers to $25 an hour for some skilled workers.

Low income is defined as 80 percent or below the median income of the metropolitan area or county where a HUD-assisted project is located. A Section 3 business is at least 51 percent owned by Section 3 residents.

The Garfield Jubilee Association helped recruit workers and train others through its YouthBuild program, which has funding from the Department of Labor.

Ms. Germany said the oft-heard complaint that there aren’t enough qualified minorities and women is “a touchy subject.” “Not to say there aren’t, but we all have to work to help train more people, period.”

“There are a lot of opportunities in a lot of these trades. When folks are ready to retire, we have to make efforts to train people to take on the roles of entrepreneurs and workers.”

The first phase of construction began in 2006. Federal guidelines required that 5 percent of the homes be accessible by the standards of the Americans with Disabilities Act, but the authority “built 10 percent in every phase,” Ms. Germany said, for a total of 25 accessible units.

Residents of the former Garfield Heights had the first opportunity to return to 123 public housing units, 49 of which are market rate. The rest are moderate-income units subsidized by the developer with tax credits.

The Commons does not replace Garfield Heights unit for unit. But by the time the elders were moved from the high-rise, the entire community had begun to thin.

“There were other opportunities across the city,” Ms. Jackson said, “and some people opted not to come back.”

Diana Nelson Jones: djones@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1626.

Read her blog City Walkabout at www.post-gazette.com/citywalk.