Despite concerns from some aldermen that the program doesn’t go far enough, the Budget Committee passed an ordinance incentivizing hiring more minority and women contractors and workers from Chicago’s most economically disadvantaged areas on city-funded construction projects.

Attendance: Chairman Carrie Austin (34), Brian Hopkins (2), Roderick Sawyer (6), Anthony Beale (9), Marty Quinn (13), David Moore (17), Michael Scott Jr. (24), Walter Burnett Jr. (27), Jason Ervin (28), Ariel Reboyras (30), Emma Mitts (37), Tom Tunney (44), James Cappleman (46)

Budget Chair Carrie Austin, often a champion for M/WBE hiring, called the proposal “outstanding” and “very exciting.” She recently secured a four year renewal of the M/WBE Enterprise Construction Program, which included a two percent increase in minority-owned and women-owned business goals for city programs.

Yesterday, the committee approved extra incentives, both introduced by the Mayor, that would change Equal Employment Opportunity Regulations for Minorities and Women. The changes would apply to city-funded projects, not federal, and would be included in every bid contract.

There’s an economic and geographical component to the introduction, meant to drive employment opportunities for apprentices, journeyworkers and laborers in areas with low income, high poverty and unemployment. The city would credit companies that use workers from those disadvantaged areas 150% per hour.

“Right now for every hour you work you get an hour credit. For every hour that someone works that’s in these target areas, they get 1.5 hours of credit,” Chief Procurement Officer Jamie Rhee explained. “When a bidder elects to do this commitment, they get an artificial reduction of their bid. So it really gives them a competitive advantage.”

Rhee says the city didn’t want contractors who were trying to take advantage of that 150% credit to bump up against maximum limits for women and minority hiring, so they’re increasing those from 50 percent to 70 percent for minorities and from 10 percent to 15 percent for women. .

She provided a map to aldermen of disadvantaged areas that qualify for the incentive, which are largely on the South Side. She said it was calculated using the city’s hardship index.

“Oh, that’s all me,” said North Lawndale Alderman Michael Scott Jr. (24) when he saw the map, excited that his residents would benefit.

But he and some other aldermen, including Ald. Walter Burnett Jr. (27), and Ald. Jason Ervin (28) worried the incentive area–20% of the city–might not be big enough, that the city wasn’t doing enough to promote training for more skilled labor, and that companies could take advantage of the program only to let workers go shortly after hiring them.

“How are we setting people up so they don’t fail? How are we preparing people to be able to work with these contractors? A lot of these contractors love the incentives, a lot of contractors love of us to give them people to work, and they know that they’re not going to be able to hang, right?” Ald. Burnett said. “They hire them for a week and say that they met their obligation, and then they let them go.” He suggested using TIF money for training.

“You can probably put in red every area from Western south of Chicago Avenue to Cermak,” Ald. Ervin told Rhee, saying he’d like to see hardship areas expanded, but “this is a step in the right direction.”

Rhee said contractors will only get the incentive based on the number of hours worked, “So [developers] don’t get any credit for just hiring someone, it’s hours worked over the life of the contract, which we track with certified payrolls.” She says Karin Norington-Reaves, the CEO of the Chicago Cook Workforce Partnership, is working closely with local unions to get more people properly trained for construction jobs.

“I think you’re going to see, hopefully, a greater partnership between the city and its union partners going forward,” Rhee said. DPS’ upcoming Vendor Fair on May 25 will have union reps in attendance “for the first time ever.”

CPS Playground Intergovernmental Agreement Approved

The Committee also approved an intergovernmental agreement (IGA) with the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District (MWRD) and the Board of Education for the second phase of the “Space to Grow” program, which “transforms schoolyards into vibrant outdoor spaces that benefit students, the community, and the environment,” by preventing stormwater runoff with permeable, landscaped playgrounds instead of paved lots.

The first phase of the program included green stormwater infrastructure projects at four CPS schools, all on the city’s South and West Sides. The next phase will expand the program to 30 CPS sites over the next five years. Those sites haven’t been picked yet.

Each stakeholder in the IGA will front a third of the cost. The city will use pay-go funds (revenue from the sewer system) to reimburse the Board of Education for up to $500,000 for each new site. The maximum reimbursement would be $15 million over five years. MWRD will reimburse for the same amount.

Irene Caminer, Director of Legal Services for the Department of Water Management (DWM), said the pilot program at the four schools was “incredibly successful.” Schoolyards that qualified for the pilot programs were in “deplorable” condition before the changes, she said. Aaron Cook, Deputy Commissioner for Green Infrastructure at DWM, says schools are picked based on flood risk in the area, whether that area has deficient playgrounds, whether there are parks and open spaces in the neighborhood, as well as poverty and obesity rates.

Those four new sites have features like turf fields, rain gardens, and porous asphalt basketball courts designed to ease basement flooding and stressing the city’s sewer systems.

Budget Chair Austin told them both to consider a site at Langston Hughes Elementary School at 104th and Wentworth, and other neighborhoods lacking parks on the South and West sides. “Make sure that those areas are included, cause I’ma ride on this one,” she said.

Ald. Emma Mitts (37) departed from the official script a bit, saying DWM and MWRD should also focus on lead testing in those same neighborhoods, pointing to a Chicago Tribune investigation suggesting the city doesn’t test in areas most at risk. Mitts, Cook County Commissioner Richard BoykinAld. Chris Taliaferro (29), and officials from city departments hosted a Lead Abatement Town Hall meeting last night.