"We were washed out, now we’re being locked out," says lifelong BW Cooper housing development resident Alfred Marshall, walking outside a construction site-in-progress on South Galvez Street. The site's contractors and the Housing Authority of New Orleans (HANO), Marshall and others say, aren't hiring local — despite HANO director David Gilmore saying 40 percent of its crew would be from the community.
The contractors already must comply with Section 3 rules under the U.S. Housing and Urban Development, which stipulate 30 percent of new hires be low-income residents. But residents and the New Orleans Workers' Center for Racial Justice say no local hires have been made.
"It doesn’t make any sense," says resident Gary Truvia. "You put something in the paper telling us what you’re going to do, but when the job kicks off, it’s not true, and you wont answer to our questions why we can’t have the jobs. You promised us a certain percent."
Community residents, union organizers and other supporters gathered outside the development this morning to demand Gilmore and the city for local job representation. The crowd chanted, "Good jobs now!" and "What do you want? Jobs! When do you want it? Now!" in front of the gates, separating the crowd from the development's concrete foundations, as well as construction crews.
Some residents say they've been on a Section 3 waiting list for two years, and the site's contractor KPK Enterprises has another waiting list. Residents call the hiring process "a shell game", moving one set of promises and paperwork to another department and losing jobs in the process.
"The residents of BW Cooper have been continually strung along for the last couple of years with promises of jobs, and we’ve seen that, this is a pattern especially since Katrina — a real effort to lock out poor black people from accessing jobs," says the center's campaign and resource director Colette Tippy. "We’re standing with BW Cooper in their long-term fight to really push forward an agenda of investing in a community that just needs jobs to have a better community, to be role models."
Derrick Butler says he's waited nearly three years to hear from Section 3, and contractors told him this morning that all jobs are currently filled for the BW Cooper development, and to call back next month.
Dawayne Shelley was hired and provided with on-the-job training to lay the foundation and slab work for the development. "That big bulldozer over there? I can drive it like I’ve been driving it forever," Shelley says. Now, he says, the community is being shut out from those employment opportunities.
"We’re willing to learn. We’re employable," Truvia adds.
The development's plans call for 410 units, but if Congress fails to renew GO Zone funding by the end of September, the number of units could be slashed by 40 percent — which could cut the labor force and further shut out the BW Cooper community from employment.
"People are being told if they don’t have a job they can’t get into this community once its rebuilt," Tippy says. "There’s a combination of things going on to disperse this really long-term community."