Overtown Residents Say They're Left Out of Work on Local Development Projects

Last weekend, construction equipment on an Overtown construction site was set on fire. It was a likely arson. The blaze provided a highly visible symbol of long-festering discontent in the historically black neighborhood.

But residents themselves have been blighted by a much less apparent injustice: As the CRA and other groups have been working to revitalize the area through several development projects, neighborhood residents say they've been left out of the construction work -- even for unskilled jobs like day labor, they say, outside workers are brought in.

"It's messed up," says community activist Edduard Prince. "These people in Overtown are so discouraged....It perpetuates a bad cycle."

See also: Overtown Anger Bursts Into Flames as Construction Site Is Targeted by Arsonist

Curt Nelson, who owns a small a small neighborhood hauling company, says he was dismayed to learn that he had been left out of hauling work once the demolition started at a project on 12th Street, after being led to believe for weeks he would have the job.

Another resident, Kendesi Mohammed, says he was told by a screener the pay for day labor work at another site, on 27th Street, was going to be $14 an hour, only to apply and then be told the pay was actually only $9 an hour -- not a devastating loss for himself, because he has other work, but a disappointment for other, needier residents, he says.

"I'm upset," Mohammed says, "because this community is struggling."

Those who do show up for the day labor jobs at 5 in the morning are still often turned away because there aren't enough places, Mohammed adds. Considering the vast resources of the CRA -- and their contractual obligations to benefit the Overtown community -- he's livid at the lack of substantial employment benefit for the community. The end result, he says, is that on jobs where dozens of people are employed, only a handful may end up actually being Overtown residents.

"The issue is that ... in the contract it's stating something different from what actually takes place," he says.

"Clarence," he added -- addressing CRA president Clarence Woods -- "is it possible, brother, that you could hire 10 blacks?... I don't think 10 is asking for the sky."

Another frequent problem is drug testing for day labor work, Prince says. For two recent development projects, Prince says, dozens of young men showed up eager to apply for day labor work on demolition sites, only to then be drug tested -- which, Prince says, effectively amounts to discrimination against a poor community where marijuana and other minor drug use is ubiquitous. Out of 30 applicants, he says, only seven passed the unannounced test.

"[The residents] come in there with their hopes up high, and they get hit with the surprise drug test," he says. "And they're still left out in the cold."

Prince has filed several lawsuits over the issue, trying to get more jobs pledges in development contracts; the issue boiled over at meetings with the CRA earlier this week, where physical confrontations broke out among angry residents.

Woods did not return a request for comment from New Times.

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Trevor Bach