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.