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State to spend $13.5 million on transit to settle Zoo Interchange suit

The State of Wisconsin said Monday it would pay more than $13 million for new Milwaukee County bus routes to help with congestion during the massive Zoo Interchange reconstruction, settling a 2-year-old lawsuit.

The lawsuit, brought by the Black Health Coalition of Wisconsin and the Milwaukee Inner-city Congregations Allied for Hope, alleged that the $1.7 billion expansion of the Zoo Interchange, the state's busiest, discriminated against urban minorities by not including public transit improvements.

Last year, federal Judge Lynn Adelman allowed work on the project to move forward but said the lawsuit would likely succeed.

Dennis Grzezinski, an attorney for MICAH and the Black Health Coalition, had no comment on a settlement other than to say that he was waiting for details to be completed.

According to the Department of Transportation, the state will:

■ Pay up to $11.5 million over four years for the bus routes. The routes haven't yet been developed, but they will ease congestion and focus on transporting workers between Milwaukee and suburban communities.

■ Spend $2 million over four years to transit providers to help enhance services. This could include real-time route information or outreach to boost ridership.

"The routes will support the department's Traffic Management Plan for the project, facilitating our commitment to minimize the impacts of construction on travelers, residents and businesses," DOT Secretary Mark Gottlieb said in a release.

The reconstruction of the Zoo Interchange is scheduled to begin in 2015 and finish in 2018. Work to boost capacity on nearby arterials and interchanges is in progress.

The settlement was negotiated in court-sponsored mediation.

The Black Health Coalition had no comment on the settlement. Milwaukee Inner-city Congregations Allied for Hope did not respond immediately to requests for comment.

Up for discussion Tuesday at the Milwaukee County Transportation, Public Works and Transit Committee meeting is a new reverse commute express route, Route 279, which would be paid for with the settlement money. Route 279 would run along Fond du Lac Ave. from central Milwaukee to Park Place business park and the Menomonee Falls industrial park in Waukesha County.

The proposed start date for the route is Aug. 24, according to county documents. The cost of the route for 2014 will be $245,000 and $668,000 in 2015. The service will operate seven days a week during typical start-and-end times over three shifts.

Brian Dranzik, director of Milwaukee County's DOT, said in a letter to the County Board that the route's approval would benefit residents and reduce travel times between northwest Milwaukee County and Waukesha County.


This story originally appeared in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel on May 19, 2014 and is available here:

By Lauren Duncan

After the Illinois Department of Transportation released a list of more than 150 properties along Springfield’s 10th Street rail line last summer, property owners face the risk of being scammed.

IDOT has tentative plans to begin construction on Springfield’s Third and 10th Street rail line consolidation when funding becomes available. The department released a list of the 108 residential and 50 commercial business properties along the 10th Street rail line the state needs to eventually acquire to complete the proposed $315 million project. Residents and businesses will have to relocate.

Leroy Jordan, co-chair of the rail task force of the Faith Coalition for the Common Good, is concerned property owners may not get the best value for the property if they aren’t careful.

“There are people coming in and they are setting up seminars … and then they’re talking about how much more money they can get for [the property owners],” Jordan said. “Which I think is like a charade.”

The state hasn’t confirmed when further details about any land acquisition will be announced. This is primarily because there isn’t money to fund the project, and thus IDOT hasn’t released plans of when work will officially begin along the 10th Street corridor.

For property owners or residents on that list of properties, knowing when they will have to sell their property to the state or move is significant. Should they take an offer now, or wait? That’s why the FCCG is trying to protect property owners and residents.

Jordan gave of an example of a recent sales pitch to a 10th Street line resident: “The realtor approached her about her property. He wanted to buy it, and said that she could stay in the property, free of charge, until the railroad bought it from him,” he said.

The FCCG has been keeping track of Springfield’s rail projects for years. Jordan said he feels important information about the project hasn’t been communicated well to those directly affected.

“Here we are as a community organization trying to be of service to our community and … there seems to be a purposeful lack of communication,” he said.

Federal law states that private property can only be taken for public use with “just compensation.” However, that doesn’t prohibit individuals in the private market from making offers. As a result, Jordan wants to make sure residents – particularly the elderly – are not taken advantage of.

Jordan makes these suggestions to owners of properties on the acquisition list:

  • Obtain a copy of IDOT’s land acquisition rules.
  • Consult with a real estate agent.
  • Find out what your property is worth from the tax assessor’s office.
  • Ask a real estate agent for an estimated replacement cost.
  • Explore the difference between the tax assessment value and the replacement cost.

“Somewhere in the middle of that, you want to ask for some money, but the closer you can get to the replacement value, the better you are,” he said.

In addition to real estate agents, property owners have also heard from individuals offering other services. Jim Dixon, who is also a member of the FCCG rail task force, attended a meeting last year where Jordan Walker, an attorney from Indianapolis, encouraged residents to hire his firm, Sever Storey, to handle their property acquisitions. Dixon said Walker claimed the firm has been successful in getting property owners more money than offers they receive from agents.

Dixon advised that residents keep in mind they have time before any acquisitions will happen.“People should not be in a rush,” Dixon said.

“People should maintain their property and wait and see what happens,” he said.

While owners will be affected by the purchase of property, Jordan emphasized that he also wants renters to know that they also will have opportunities for compensation as a result of being displaced. He said the FCCG plans to hold a meeting in February regarding the issues.

This story originally appeard in the Illinois Times on January 23, 2014 and is available here:

Posted Jan. 17, 2014 byLeroy Jordan

As a child, I was always excited about preparing a wish list for the New Year rather than making a New Year’s resolution about something that sounded good but I knew would be impossible to keep.
The difference between my wish list then and my wish list now is it has changed from what I want for myself to what I want for the community where I have resided for the last 49 years. I’ve come to realize that history continues to prove that when we join together for the common good we are more likely to meet the needs of our community and the people we serve.
My 2014 wish list focuses on the items found in the Faith Coalition for the Common Good’s Rail Community Benefit Agreement.
Here are my wishes for 2014.
* I wish for a special blessing for the health and welfare of Faith Coalition for the Common Good, the public decision makers, stakeholders and especially all rail planning and monitoring committee members.
* I wish more community organizations, faith communities and individuals would join Faith Coalition because our grassroots numbers are the key to the welfare of the many people we serve. The coalition’s power is not in wealth but in the numbers of citizens represented by its membership. You can help make our voices stronger in this justice work by joining with us.
* I wish the Community Benefit Agreement were accepted by the decision makers and stakeholders not just through their words but also by their actions. The result of Faith Coalition for the Common Good’s six-month report indicates a lot of promises have been made but very few immediate actions have resulted. Because a decision was made not to include the coalition in the stakeholder group, the voices of the community have been ignored. I believe the stakeholders (powerbrokers) wish we would just go away and shut up.
I believe it would be helpful if The State Journal-Register would publish human interest stories on the environmental and economic impact the railroad project is having on families most affected by the 10th Street relocation decision. I plan to write articles addressing each item in the Community Benefit Agreement. Today, I will address relocation.
Railroad Relocation
Did you know since the time The State Journal-Register published the relocation properties address listing in the paper, people have been under pressure to sell their properties? Yes, not only that but they are being invited by land speculators and attorneys from Decatur, Chicago and other places to attend seminars, here in Springfield, to convince people to sell their properties. I wonder what happened to the active involvement of The Greater Springfield Chamber of Commerce and the association of Springfield Realtors. I wonder: Aren’t they concerned about the families and senior citizens of our community? Is it just money-making business deals with which they are concerned?

This story originally appeared in The State Journal-Register on January 17, 2014 and is available here:

By This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Faith and civil rights leaders Monday called for increased monitoring and oversight of the Milwaukee Housing Authority's minority contracting and hiring of low-wage workers.

The call comes in light of a U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development review that found the city's housing authority did not comply with federal regulations on hiring low-income workers on the $82 million Westlawn revitalization project.

The housing authority has said it will not appeal the review but will work with HUD to ensure greater compliance.

The review by HUD came after a complaint from the Milwaukee Inner-city Congregations Allied for Hope.

At a news conference Monday across the street from the new Westlawn Gardens, MICAH president the Rev. Willie Brisco and about 40 others called for changes to ensure that the city's poor and unemployed have a chance at jobs that are so badly needed in the city.

Brisco said MICAH will ask HUD for money to be set aside to monitor housing authority compliance.

"They (city officials) ignored us when we came to their doors (two years ago)," he said. But the HUD review showed that there were problems with contracting and hiring on the project, Brisco said.

The review showed that no low-income person from Westlawn, nor any other public housing project in the city, was hired for the project.

Ald. Joe Davis, one of two aldermen who represent the large Westlawn area, gave a blunt and contrite assessment of the situation.

"We protect our own self-interest and play politics," he said. "The city has always experienced discriminatory practices, and if it had not been for outside forces, this would not have come to light.

"I'll accept responsibility as a city official that we don't walk away from the fight," he told the group, which included contractors, workers, ministers and the NAACP.

Davis said he will ask Mayor Tom Barrett to appoint someone from MICAH to the housing authority board to keep an eye on minority contract and worker compliance.

"The mayor has made it clear that he's highly disappointed by the actions that led to the audit findings," said Jeff Fleming, speaking for the mayor.

"Going forward he will not allow any project to fail to meet the letter and the spirit of the law," Fleming said.

As for the recommendations, the mayor will consider them and will discuss them with Brisco, he said.

The housing authority is concentrating on working with HUD on developing an agreement to achieve full compliance in the future, said Paul Williams, speaking for the housing authority.

James Hall, of the NAACP, who filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Justice asking for an investigation into the city's minority hiring and procurement practices, called the HUD review "the tip of the iceberg."

He added: "We urge the city to move swiftly to address the deficiencies and corrections because real jobs and real opportunities have been lost."

The Rev. Joseph Ellwanger, representing the Gamaliel Foundation, the national organization that's associated with MICAH, said Gamaliel backs MICAH's fight and is waging similar battles in other cities.

Clarence Coats, 62, an unemployed worker who lives in the area, said he went to Westlawn when the demolition of the old units started and inquired about a job.

"I came to the trailer, knocked on the door and asked about job opportunities, but they said there were no jobs," he said.

Coats said he would have taken any kind of a job.

Jim Gaillard, who owns Pyramid Electric, said his firm bid on electrical contracts and won three, but he didn't have the capacity to put up the $2million bond required. He wanted to team up with another company, but that couldn't be arranged, he said.

So Gaillard said his company ended up with a $30,000 contract out of the deal.

This story originally appeared in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel on September 30, 2013 and is available here:


HUD takes issue with Milwaukee's low-income hiring in Westlawn project

By This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. and This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. of the Journal Sentinel

The Housing Authority of the City of Milwaukee failed to comply with federal regulations on the hiring of low-income workers on its $82 million Westlawn Gardens project completed this year, according to a review by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

The HUD review, released this week in response to a complaint from local religious leaders, said the housing authority, while it met certain goals, exempted some contractors from the requirements; failed to make the hiring of Westlawn and other Housing Authority residents a priority; and didn't notify certain contractors and residents of employment opportunities and training.

Despite the findings, the report said, the Housing Authority "was, in fact, attempting in good faith to meet the requirements" of the Section 3 rules governing the hiring of low-income individuals and had made "significant efforts in that regard."

The Rev. Willie Brisco, president of the Milwaukee Inner-city Congregations Allied for Hope, which had complained to HUD about hiring practices on the project, applauded the findings, saying it vindicated the organization's concerns.

"It's too early to say what it all means," he said, "But we're going to be talking with federal authorities to ensure this doesn't happen again."

Milwaukee Ald. Willie Hines, who chairs the Housing Authority's Board of Commissioners, did not immediately respond to a telephone call seeking comment.

The Housing Authority, which has 15 days to appeal, issued a statement saying it takes the federal agency's critique seriously. Officials haven't decided whether to appeal.

"The Housing Authority is committed to the goals of Section 3 and will work with HUD to develop more effective strategies and improve Section 3 performance in the future."

Section 3 of federal law requires that training, employment and contracting opportunities generated by HUD-financed housing and community development programs be directed to low-income and very low-income people.

Of particular concern, the HUD review found that "no Westlawn residents and no Housing Authority residents from any other Housing Authority developments were hired to work on the Westlawn project."

The federal review said that "in light of the findings of non-compliance," federal officials would take what it called "informal steps" to resolve the complaint.

HUD audited the project at the request of MICAH, which complained about the lack of minority workers on the project in an area of the city that is predominantly African-American and dogged by double-digit unemployment. HUD regulations address income but not race. But because minorities in the central city are overwhelmingly poor, the Section 3 review addresses the same concerns, MICAH said.

The Westlawn project began in 2010 with the demolition of 332 of its more than 725 units on the east side of the complex. They were replaced with 250 units in contemporary townhouses, single-family homes and multifamily apartments.

MICAH's HUD complaint was just the latest in a growing debate over the city's minority contracting and hiring practices.

In June, the NAACP and a coalition of organizations lodged a more far-reaching complaint, asking the U.S. Department of Justice to look into disparities that persist in the City of Milwaukee's contracting and procurement policies.

This story originally appeared in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel on September 18, 2013 and is available here: