A group of churches representing Milwaukee’s inner city is pushing for a list of requirements on the redevelopment corridor cleared by the removal of the Park East Freeway at the north end of downtown Milwaukee.
Milwaukee Innercity Congregations Allied for Hope (MICAH) and a coalition of community and labor groups planned a meeting April 3 at Mt. Zion Baptist Church, 2207 N. 2nd St.
MICAH leaders had already met with city aldermen and personnel at Milwaukee County and the Milwaukee Department of City Development.
John Goldstein, president of the Milwaukee County Labor Council, is among those spearheading the movement toward community benefit agreements (CBAs), as they are referred to in a MICAH position paper.
Goldstein discounted the idea that existing forms of regulation, such as zoning and land use rule, could help accomplish MICAH’s goals.
Zoning for redevelopment uses that deliver higher-wage jobs, rather than retail or hospitality jobs, would not resolve the problems of unemployment and low-wages for neighborhood residents, he said.
"Even if you are talking about retail, we should be raising the bar," Goldstein said. "There is no reason someone in retail in this downtown area should be making only $6 an hour."
According to MICAH lead organizer Jose Perez, the group would like to require the majority of jobs in the corridor to pay $9 per hour or more.
CBAs for redevelopment in the Park East corridor, according to the position paper on MICAH’s Web site, should mandate:
— Use of locally-owned operators and contractors.
— Maximization of union jobs or neutrality agreements to protect workers’ rights to organize.
— Programs to make job opportunities in the corridor available to residents of neighborhoods with high unemployment. Employers would be forced to hire a percentage of workers from specific zip codes or work through a community group recruiting workers from the outlying area.
— Contributions to a fund to be used to improve parks in the city’s poorest neighborhoods.
— At least 20% of the housing built in the corridor must be affordable, defined as housing priced low enough that low-income families can afford to live there.
While proponents of relatively unrestricted development in the Park East corridor claim that allowing development to progress unhindered will lead to job opportunities and higher property values for those in surrounding neighborhoods, MICAH leaders claim that higher property values may actually hurt neighborhood residents.
"The development should take into consideration the people who live near it," said Harold Owens, MICAH treasurer and Mt. Zion Baptist Church trustee. "My church is just north of Brewer’s Hill. There were a lot of people who were forced out of their homes (by increasing property taxes) when those property values went up."
"Our members would love to be able to afford to live in Brewer’s Hill," said MICAH president Joseph Jackson, pastor of Evergreen Missionary Baptist Church.
Jackson and Owens said the types of jobs they want for their neighbors are the types that GE Medical Systems would bring if it moved its IT department downtown.
"Every one of those jobs would pay more than $9 a hour," Jackson said.
Perez characterized the CBA proposal as a moderate, but deliberate, effort at spreading the wealth to be created in the Park East corridor that should not adversely affect smaller businesses with limited ability to monitor their hiring and compensation practices.
"It is a very intentional approach," Perez said. "Smaller businesses are fine, as long as they are paying people. All we want is 15% above the poverty standard and only 75% of the jobs meeting the poverty level."
April 4, 2003 Small Business Times, Milwaukee