Villa residents receive hope in form of jobs

Promise King/On Urban Affairs

The Housing Authority of Portland has delivered again.- Some residents of the old Columbia Villa are receiving a life-changing holiday package courtesy of HAP. The package contains newly minted construction jobs for those willing and able to work on HAP's Hope VI project.

For those of you who have not kept up on your federal jargon, Hope VI programs and projects combine job development with mechanisms aimed at improving the social skills of public housing residents.

The city's work force numbers indicate that 23 of the 54 women and minority workers doing construction labor work on the project are residents of the old Columbia Villa who were referred through HAP's work force program. Another 17 residents were hired for nonconstruction duties such as security, administration and architectural design work, bringing the total to 40 families to date.

That represents 62 percent of the workers on site. A sift through the city of Portland's minority participation data revealed that no other construction site in metropolitan Portland has matched this level of participation by minority and women workers Ñ especially in construction jobs.

When HAP unveiled its plan to redevelop North Portland's Columbia Villa through a $35 million grant from the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development, it elicited some skepticism among neighbors and a wait-and-see attitude toward its pronounced commitment to achieving diversity on construction sites. But if recent data released by the Portland Bureau of Purchases are anything to go by, HAP is doing a commendable job Ñ especially on behalf of its low-income residents, who are mostly minorities and immigrants.

'The housing authority and its partners Ñ including the city Ñ are undertaking much more than a housing development,' city Commissioner Erik Stein says. 'We are transforming the neighborhood, and when the project is complete, New Columbia will be one of the most vibrant neighborhoods.'

The commissioner is right insofar as development dividends continue to trickle down to the residents. The city has committed about $20 million to the project.

In spite of these initial successes, HAP's activities still need some oversight to ensure that the commitment to residents is not forgotten. Clearly, that function must be performed by agencies neither paid nor hired by HAP. A realistic assessment of HAP will be hard to come by if those clamoring on behalf of minorities are themselves financially tied to the agency.

I say this because one industry that seems to have thrived in these recessionary days is the 'equal opportunity' industry, by which some minority leaders have managed to gain a great deal of 'equal opportunity' to public dollars, at the expense of truly needy and low-income -citizens.

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However, all news is not good news on the work force front.

The Portland Development Commission is still negotiating with the trade unions over how to increase minority participation and meet its diversity goals in the $1.3 billion South Waterfront project.

'We are expecting to reach agreement early next year,' says PDC Chairman Matt Hennessee.

But I say why not borrow a page from HAP's book on inclusion? The last time I checked, Steve Rudman, the executive director of HAP, wasn't keeping the agency's procedures a secret.

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