Coalition: HUD upholds finding of Mississippi’s non-compliance with hiring, contracting requirements at State Port

November 15, 2013

 

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Howard Page Steps Coalition 228-233-4734
Reilly Morse Mississippi Center for Justice 228-383-3348
Diane Glauber Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law 202-662-8303


Coalition: HUD upholds finding of Mississippi’s non-compliance with hiring, contracting requirements at State Port
Gulfport community organizations urge HUD to force State to comply with its duties; Project has made only 19 construction new hires, just 8 of whom are low-income residents

(Gulfport, MS, November 15, 2013) A decision issued this week by the U. S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has upheld findings of systemic non-compliance by the Mississippi Development Authority (MDA) with federal job and contracting requirements in the Port of Gulfport restoration project. The Port Campaign Coalition and the Steps Coalition view this decision as an important step forward in securing accountability in the State’s disappointing administration of this massive infrastructure project.

In May, 2013, HUD cited MDA for eight instances of non-compliance with Section 3, which requires recipients of federal funds to meet goals for hiring, training and contracting with low-income residents.[1] After an appeal by the State, five out of eight findings were upheld in yesterday’s decision. In summary form, the four findings concerning the Port include:

  • Failure to notify Section 3 residents of training and employment opportunities.
  • Failure to notify Section 3 businesses of contracting opportunities from 2009-2011.
  • Failure to provide priority preferences to Section 3 residents and businesses.
  • Failure to meet the minimum contracting goals for Section 3 businesses.

The decision reveals astoundingly low new construction job rates at the port. There have been only 19 new hires, 8 of whom qualify as low or moderate income residents. MDA could not adequately verify its earlier report on the port that claimed 49 new hires, including 39 Section 3 residents, so those figures were withdrawn. Although HUD found that the Port project met the minimum percentage of low income new hires for Section 3 compliance, the actual number of 19 new hires is shockingly low.[2]

The underperformance is even worse for Section 3 businesses. This week’s decision affirms that the Port’s sole Section 3 construction contractor, W. C. Fore, who won a $19 million contract, was not an eligible Section 3 business. This means that the port project has provided zero percent of the total construction work to Section 3 businesses.

“Nineteen new hires and over $100 million in disaster aid spent on the Port? MDA and the Port do not seem to know how to effectively create jobs,” said Frances Fredericks, a former Mississippi state representative and a member of the Port Campaign Coalition.

“It looks to us like the State’s heart never was committed to delivering opportunity to people desperate for work,” added Ruth Story, of the Gulfport Branch NAACP.“We want job creation promises kept. We urge HUD to pause further spending on this project until MDA and the Port can get their houses in order,” said Glenn Cobb of the Port Campaign Coalition.

“We welcome HUD’s decision as a meaningful step forward in securing accountability,” said Roberta Avila, executive director of the Steps Coalition. “It is now time for MDA to cooperate with HUD and community members to put into place everything the law requires to increase opportunity for low income residents and businesses to benefit from this massive project.”

The Port Campaign Coalition and the Steps Coalition are represented by the Mississippi Center for Justice, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, and Stroock & Stroock & Lavan, of New York City.

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The Steps Coalition – represented by the Mississippi Center for Justice and the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law – has worked to advance community education and advocate for sustainable job creation, environmental justice and more positive community outcomes in Gulfport. For more information, please go online to www.stepscoalition.org. Mississippi Center for Justice is a nonprofit, public interest law firm committed to advancing racial and economic justice. Supported and staffed by attorneys, community leaders and volunteers, the Center develops and pursues strategies to combat discrimination and poverty statewide. More information about the Center’s campaigns to advance racial and economic justice is available online at www.mscenterforjustice.org.

The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization, was formed in 1963 at the request of John F. Kennedy to involve the private bar in providing legal services to address racial discrimination. The principal mission of the Lawyers’ Committee is to secure, through the rule of law, equal justice under law. For more information, visit www.lawyerscommittee.org.

1 Section 3 is a set of legal duties contained in the Housing and Urban Development Act of 1968. It requires state and local recipients of federal aid to meet numerical goals for hiring, training, and contracting with public housing and low-income residents on certain types of projects that receive federal housing funds. The potential for Section 3 is to increase incomes of low-income people by making more jobs available to them. Typically, 30 percent of persons hired under a covered contract must be Section 3 residents. 2 In contrast, 140 residents were newly hired under the disaster housing repair program known as Neighborhood Home Program (NHP), 89 of whom were low or moderate income residents. Although the Port has spent $109 million, nearly equaling the NHP’s $115 million, it has only one seventh the number of new hires and one tenth the Section 3 new hires as the NHP.

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