2010 Stimulus Just another CUNY Graduate School of Journalism site

2010 Stimulus
Neighborhoods in Need Left Out Again

By Eugenia Miranda and Spencer Freeman, New York City News Service

The Hobbs Ciena construction site on E. 102nd and 2nd Avenue in Spanish Harlem is the first affordable housing project in the country funded by the stimulus. The project created over 100 union and non-union jobs.

Jonathan Sawyer eavesdropped on a cell phone conversation on a cross-town bus on 125th Street about a month ago.

“Recession? What recession?” Sawyer heard a middle-aged black man say to the person on the other end. “We’ve always had next to nothing.”

For Sawyer, a volunteer at an East Harlem job-training center, the snippet of conversation crystallized what he has been thinking about many of the city’s neediest neighborhoods.

The federal government’s massive stimulus program may have saved the U.S. economy from slipping from a recession into a depression, but minorities still have a harder time pulling themselves up.

“They were talking about how for people of color in low-income communities, there is no recession because you’re used to not really having that much,” said Sawyer. “So it’s just people who are recently unemployed who think that there’s a recession.”

Sawyer, 24, volunteers for the Welfare & Workforce Development campaign at the East Harlem nonprofit Community Voices Heard, part of a statewide coalition of 15 organizations called the New York Stimulus Alliance dedicated to ensuring that stimulus funds reach the poorest minority neighborhoods.

While unemployment hovers at about 5 percent in wealthy neighborhoods like the Upper West and Upper East Sides, it’s three times that much in impoverished areas in Harlem, northern Manhattan, the South and Central Bronx, and Central Brooklyn. (See graphic.)

STRIVE received $500,000 in stimulus funding for its Green Program in East Harlem, which offers specialized training and job placement in eco-friendly construction sites.

Lameeka Heath, 31, considers herself a groundbreaker in the “green” construction industry.

Former business owner Kirk Wallace hopes that STRIVE will help prepare him for a mid-career level job.

Career Services Director Lawrence Jackson advises Harlem’s underserved community.

After he was laid off, Daniel Rios took advantage of STRIVE’s resume-building courses.

Alexis McCall lives on E. 106th Street and hasn’t seen much change in the neighborhood, except that the cranes at luxury condominium construction sites have started moving again. As she stuffed envelopes for one of Community Voices Heard’s mailings, the 40-year-old volunteer rolled her eyes when asked if stimulus jobs were helping people in the neighborhood.

“It’s obvious; it’s going somewhere else,” she said. “I see friends, family looking for work. Folks are trying to make a living, and working at Burger King is not going to cut it unless you’re management.”

Ana Maria Archila, of the immigrant advocacy group Make the Road, which is also part of the alliance, said on of the biggest problem has been getting word out about the availability of stimulus jobs.

Government officials point to two Web sites, New York State Jobs Exchange and New York State Department of Labor, as one-stop shopping for stimulus jobs, Archila said on the ground level the word isn’t getting out.

“I’m sure the stimulus has created many, many new jobs,” she said, ticking off stimulus public works projects in the area. “(But) it has been hard for community members and for people interested to access information about where those jobs are created and how to access them,” said Archila.

In the absence of real jobs, the stimulus helps pay for job-training programs and food stamps and helps parents with back-to-school supplies.

Archila’s own organization, Make the Road, received funding for its English as a Second Language programs, and East Harlem’s STRIVE (see audio story in left column) received $500,000 to train workers for jobs in “green” construction.

“There has been investment in our communities, but the jobs that have been created through infrastructure have not reached our communities,” said Archila.

Rather than employing low-income residents who need work the most, stimulus funds have mainly given more work to people who already had jobs with contractors, according to Community Voices Heard.

“How these jobs are determined and how they go out is a mystery to me,” said Diane Blanford, a 54-year-old member.

Breaking into unions and getting the right training for jobs are major barriers for low-income people competing for access stimulus-funded jobs.

The New York City Housing Authority, for instance, was supposed to hire 30 percent of its staff from local residents when it received $423 million in stimulus funds for renovation and construction, creating 3,500 jobs.

Not all of the money has been spent yet — but so far, only 214 jobs have gone to residents of housing projects or local, low-income residents.

“If your development is not offering anything to get you ready for one of those jobs, when those jobs do come along and there’s work being done over there you won’t get the job,” said Blanford. A NYCHA spokesperson did not return calls for comment.

Last summer, the mayor and governor showed up in East Harlem to tout the groundbreaking of the first affordable housing site in the country funded by stimulus funds – a 259-unit project on East 102nd Street that received $26 million in tax credits. More than 100 union and non-union workers have been pouring the foundation since August, but it’s not clear how many new jobs were created and how many locals are employed.

And even the existing jobs are troubled. Last fall, workers at the site complained that they were getting paid $32 an hour for work for which they were supposed to get $49 under the law. The complaints are reportedly being investigated by the state Labor Department of Labor and the city Department of Housing Development and Preservation. Officials declined to comment on the investigations.

James Parrott, chief economist at the Fiscal Policy institute, says low-income neighborhoods would benefit most from direct public employment and wage subsidies that compensate employers who provide training to low-income workers, according to recent City Council testimony. He did not return a call for comment.

Advocates say most of those types of jobs are reserved for people who have been on public assistance, according to Community Voices Heard.

Archila said it’s easy to find out which projects are getting funded through the Web site recovery.gov and New York City’s stimulus tracker, but harder to find out who is getting the jobs. When advocates met with the state’s stimulus czar, Timothy Gilchrist, in December, Gilchrist and officials from state agencies said it was difficult for them too.

Gilchrist spokesman Ryan White said that because employers are reporting to different agencies that have doled out money through a variety of programs, the flow of information is disparate and de-centralized.

Most of the money has already been spent, and officials are now mainly keeping tabs on projects to see if the funds are being spent according to regulations.

“I really don’t want to minimize the fact that there has been real investment in communities across the state,” said Archila. “But there has been, perhaps, not enough information and not enough communication about how the stimulus is reaching families.”

(Infographic by Spencer Freeman)

Comments are closed.