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Project review committee members weigh contractors’ records with MBEs

In October, the city of Boston announced that all developers building on city-owned land would be subject to strict guidelines on diversity to ensure that they are including people of color and women in building projects, from jobs to equity ownership.

The citywide guidelines, based on those set out for the redevelopment of four parcels in Dudley Square, require any developer to submit a Diversity and Inclusion Plan with their proposal, outlining how women and people of color will be included in jobs, contracts and equity stakes, down to percentages of the project’s workforce.

Now, with bids in on several of Dudley Square’s largest parcels on public land, city officials and community representatives are tasked with using the new criteria to judge proposals, with ownership by people of color one of the key factors in the process.

“All things being equal, if we’re look at teams and one has more minority ownership than another, that would weigh in that firm’s favor,” said John Feuerbach, senior development officer at the Department of Neighborhood Development. “It will be an important criteria moving forward.”

Evaluating diversity

The evaluation of the Dudley Square area proposals based on diversity information will be conducted by a project review committee, which will weigh minority equity and other factors in making its final recommendation for which firm will be designated developer of the parcel.

The Roxbury Strategic Masterplan Oversight Committee will then make a decision based on that recommendation. Once approved by the city’s Public Facilities Department, the designated developer will submit its proposal to the Boston Planning and Development Agency’s Article 80 project review process, allowing for public comment on the project before the BPDA board votes on the project.

While PRC members said that they have not yet reached the point of evaluating proposals, developers will most likely be scored based on ownership by people of color, their diversity and inclusion plans and their past history of hiring workers of color and contracting with minority business enterprises.

PRC member Rodney Singleton said that he wants developers in Boston, particularly in the Roxbury area, to represent the actual makeup of the surrounding community in their teams.

“If you have a good track record of meeting and exceeding the jobs numbers that the City of Boston puts out and you do really well at utilizing firms of color and MBEs [minority-owned business enterprises] and WBEs [women-owned business enterprises] beyond what is sort of an established norm, you will be looked at favorably,” Singleton said. “We’re talking about the heart of the black community. We’re talking about black and brown folks that essentially represent roughly 85 percent of the population. If you’re going to be doing a project in our neighborhood then you should be utilizing folks and firms of color.”

Eric Esteves, another member of the PRC, said that they also want to be sure that the developers they choose aren’t just including minorities for bonus points on their proposals.

“We’re being mindful of how much of a partnership it truly is,” Esteves said. “Are they surface-level partnerships, or is this actually intentionally and well thought out, and not just token MBE participation?” Singleton also specified that he wants to see firms from the Boston area doing the work, not ones from outside.

“MBE businesses that are not from around Boston don’t actually help the bottom line,” he said.

“If you have an MBE firm and that firm is actually from the Cape somewhere, that’s good, but it only helps to erode at the development and the growing of MBE and WBE businesses within the city of Boston.”

To qualify as an MBE, a firm must be 51 percent owned by people of color. However, in some cases, nonprofits can be counted towards a project’s diversity and inclusion numbers if 51 percent or more of a nonprofit’s executive board are people of color. It is yet unclear if the PRC for the Dudley Square redevelopment will count nonprofits in their scoring.

District 7 City Councilor Kim Janey, whose district includes Dudley Square, says she doesn’t think nonprofits should be considered minority business enterprises, and says the city should prioritize equity ownership by people of color on RFPs for city-owned land.

“I want to change how the city does business. We want to have an inclusive economy,” Janey said. “It’s not enough to have an executive director or board be people of color.

We’re talking about this as a tool to build wealth in our community. A nonprofit can’t do that.”

Dudley Square proposals

On Feb. 23, five developers presented their plans for two of the four sites in Dudley Square at a community meeting (a second meeting scheduled for March 2 for the remaining two sites was postponed due to snow), and outlined their diversity plans.

In the presentations, numbers for MBE and WBE usage varied: Cruz Construction, an MBE itself, had the highest promise and greatest focus on diversity, with a goal of hiring at least 60 percent MBEs, 15 percent WBEs and 60 percent local Boston residents, as well as 60 percent minority and 15 percent women construction workers.

Meeting attendees praised Cruz Construction for its history of high minority participation and questioned other developers’ commitment to diversity.

Singleton echoed this, and said that objectively, a developer like Cruz would be given more weight in his evaluation of their Dudley proposal because of that history, while others with a less-impressive history might be skipped over.

He specifically noted Trinity Financial, which is 50 percent owned by a person of color. Singleton said that firm doesn’t have a great track record of contracting with MBEs or hiring minority workers on projects. Singleton also pointed to the Teacher’s Place proposal, which is using The Community Builders as a general contractor, a company which he said has had incredibly low minority participation numbers in past Boston projects.

“It’s a slap in the face,” he said.

Development without displacement

Esteves said that having diversity and inclusion requirements and prioritizing them in development projects is important for both closing the wealth gap and improving economic mobility in Boston.

While they want to improve the lives of the people who live in the area, they also do not want to price them out of living there.

“We want to bring back the Dudley Square business, and make it an economic hub, but also not displace people from being consumers and producers and residents,” Esteves said. “Roxbury can be an economic hub for other people from around the region, but not to the detriment of local residents.”

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