About 275 people packed into the West Harlem Development Corporation’s 2012 Pubic Meeting on Thursday, Oct. 25, many walking away feeling confident and optimistic about the organization’s plans to fund important initiatives in the community.
The Columbia Spectator reports that the WHLDC received criticism last year for not releasing information about its board or where it distributed funds, as well as for its lack of a website or an office. Then, it hired an executive director in April, made a fanfare in June of giving $750,000 to fund summer jobs for kids, and now is developing a series of business focus groups for locals.
Executive Director Kofi A. Boateng told the crowd, a mix of residents and community-based organizations, about WHLDC’s accomplishments, and he detailed future plans to inject $150 million in cash and in-kind services into West Harlem.
Mr. Boateng assured the audience that they are part of the process. He said the organization will collaborate with the public and will remain transparent as it gives out grants and funds initiatives.
“I don’t speak for what happened in the past, but I’ll speak for what we are going to do going forward,” Mr. Boateng said. “The door is going to be open, and you are going to be free to collaborate and come with your ideas and come and talk to us. What you see here is a dawn of a new day of collaboration and partnership.”
Dean C. Morris, Director of Programs, said WHLDC is finalizing its grant-making procedures with the hopes of giving out funding by the New Year for projects in the areas of employment, economic development, housing, community facilities, education, environment, historic preservation, transportation, and arts and culture.
“It may have taken longer than we had expected, but today is a celebration,” said Donald C. Notice, WHLDC Board Chairman. “Our first Executive Director, Kofi Boateng, who joined us in April 2012, has put together an office, a website and a team. He has worked hard with the board; and cooperated with Columbia University and all other stakeholders to bring us close to doing what we all want — getting the money out into the community.”
Representatives of Columbia University’s Office of Government and Community Affairs also outlined their role in responding to WHLDC’s first request for in-kind services. They are working with the WHLDC to identify industries that are coming to the Harlem area and to fund organizations to train residents for jobs in those industries.
A representative from McKissack & McKissack, a consulting firm to the Columbia expansion project, reported that about51.8 percent ($31 million) of the total construction spending to date was paid to minority, women and local businesses (MWL), and a total of 174,454 workforce hours (67.2 percent) were performed by MWLs, excluding special construction services, and “$700,000 has been spent on personnel, legal, and office services,” says the Columbia Spectator. Several construction workers told the audience that the crews at the Columbia expansion project had more minorities and women than any other worksite.
The Columbia Spectator reported, Aissatou Bey Grecia, a senior manager at one of Manhattanville’s primary contractors, McKissack and McKissack, said that while the projects employs many minority- and women-owned firms, “the challenge is with the local.”
Manhattanville construction requires workers to be unionized, which makes it difficult for local residents without a high school diploma or GED to find employment. Many audience members called for the WHLDC to lead construction training programs.
K. Samuels, Pharmaceutical Sciences ’73 and coordinating member of the Friends of Macomb’s Bridge Branch Library, received applause when she told Grecia that she wasn’t “telling the truth when you say jobs, jobs, jobs.” Samuels said that she sent two men, one African-American and one Caucasian, to Riverbank State Park last month for a jobs fair, but that only the Caucasian received callbacks for construction work at Manhattanville.
“Our people are trying to go to work and Columbia is saying there are jobs, but I don’t know where they are,” she said.
Samuels criticized the WHLDC’s board of directors for comprising mostly Community Board 9 members and representatives of elected officials and not including enough people outside of local government.
During question and answer sessions, residents and professionals from the Central and West Harlem area asked constructive — and sometimes pointed — questions. Many also commented that they were hopeful and confident about the WHLDC’s future after the meeting, including one man who said he was once a rabble-rouser against the Columbia expansion plan.
“This process started seven years ago, and a lot of people took opposition to what Columbia was doing,” he told the audience. “I feel very optimistic this can work.”
Assemblyman Keith Wright and Council Member Robert Jackson offered encouraging words to the WHLDC. Jackson commended the organization’s transparency by distributing financial statements to the meeting attendees.
“Let me thank the West Harlem Local Development Corporation for holding this public meeting,” Council Member Jackson said. “I want to know, ‘When is the next one?’ The community needs to know.”
Source unless otherwise indicated.