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Big role seen for minority firms in rehab grant

Skeptical minority contractors heard Brinshore Development officials Thursday promise that at least 25 percent of the work resulting from the city’s $18 million federal housing grant will be done by Evanston-based and minority firms.

Skeptical minority contractors heard Brinshore Development officials Thursday promise that at least 25 percent of the work resulting from the city’s $18 million federal housing grant will be done by Evanston-based and minority firms.

Calvin Lynn, president of the Evanston Black Business Alliance, said he’d been a contractor in the community for 14 years and has yet to receive any city contracts for housing rehabilitation.

But Peter Levavi, senior vice president of Brinshore, said his firm has been able to meet or exceed minority hiring commitments in all its Chicago area projects and had one project in Indianapolis where minority, women and community-based firms handled over 60 percent of the work.

"The only way we succeed is if we share economic opportunities with the community," Levavi said. "This is about bringing up the community. We want to work with local contractors and hire local people."

Contractors and other residents at Thursday evening’s 5th Ward meeting at the Fleetwood-Jourdain Community Center also raised questions about why the city had brought in a firm from Northbrook to be its partner on the federal grant application, rather than relying on local firms and non-profit groups to acquire and fix up the buildings.

Dennis Marino, who heads the city’s planning division, said that, under rules of the federal Neighborhood Stabilization Program grant, the work of rehabilitating 100 bank-owned properties has to be completed within three years — with half the work done in two years.

"There are tight timelines and deadlines," Marino said, "And the city knew it needed a strong private partner with a track record of delivering on time."

"The clock started ticking in January" when the grant was awarded, Marino added.

Several city partnerships with small non-profits on housing rehabilitation programs have run into major delays and cost overruns in recent years.

And Lonnie Wilson, of the jobs training group Community Builders, said that, given the grant program rules, it was a waste of time for residents to complain that Brinshore will acquire the properties. "Just make sure you get a good share of the construction money," he suggested. 

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