Community members protest lack of local minority contractors involved in Y.O.U. construction

Rishika Dugyala, Assistant City Editor

Community members are protesting the Youth & Opportunity United’s new construction project, asserting the organization has not employed enough local minority contractors.

In building its new youth center and headquarters, which broke ground on March 21, executive director Seth Green said Y.O.U. surpassed Evanston’s goal to award 25 percent of contracts to minority-owned, woman-owned and locally-owned businesses. On its $4.5 million project, more than 30 percent of Y.O.U.’s contractors fit those categories, Green said.

However, Lonnie Wilson, a protester and spokesperson for the Committee for Community Developmental Change, said although many of Y.O.U.’s hires are minority-owned, not enough minority-owned contractors are locally-owned. The benefit of working with locally-owned businesses is that they are are more likely to employ the residents of the neighborhood where the building is located, Wilson said.

“We keep coming up with these programs and then we build these $4.5 million buildings in our neighborhood and we don’t allow the people who live there to be part of the process. It’s crazy,” he said. “You can’t have a program for the sons and the daughters and not have something for the fathers and the mothers.”

Green said Y.O.U. was interested in incorporating community input from the project’s outset. He said this input resulted in a series of opportunities for local minority contractors including special orientation sessions for these companies, working with the city’s Local Employment Program to invite contractors to bid and, in some cases, awarding a bid that cost slightly more than its competitor because the bidder was a minority individual, a woman or a local.  

In response to the protest, Y.O.U. held in-person meetings with community members and updated its website to clarify how each contractor was chosen, he said.

The center will be located at 1911 Church St., across the street from Evanston Township High School, and will continue to offer after-school enrichment, mental health counseling, community-to-school support and summer learning opportunities.

Wilson said the organization has not been forthright and “changed the rules” when it decided to offer union contracts for the project after telling community members it would not. He said this decision excluded the majority of the neighborhood’s residents because they are not union members.

Although the organization ultimately chose a union firm to manage the construction, Green said Y.O.U. also designated work to be done by non-union, local contractors.

Bennett Johnson, who leads the Evanston Minority Business Consortium, said Y.O.U. has not hired an optimal number of local minority contractors and residents to work with the organization.

The Evanston Minority Business Consortium is primarily made up of local minority construction companies, Johnson said. Despite the group consistently approaching Y.O.U. to collaborate on the project, none of the members were offered major contracts, he said.

Johnson said one of the group’s most reputable construction contract-managing companies was rejected in favor of a non-local company. Additionally, a contractor with a bid of $203,500 for excavation work was chosen instead of a local minority contractor’s bid of $185,750, Johnson said.

“(It) would make a difference to a lot of families in the neighborhood if Y.O.U. focused on trying to be consistent with the so-called mission of the organization,” Johnson said.

However, Green said the minority contractor’s bid was actually $100,000 higher than it reported. He also said the project’s construction manager did not receive certain paperwork from the bidder, making the bid incomplete.

“The dialogue that has taken place with the community has informed every aspect of the construction process,” Green said. “We will absolutely be inviting the people who have expressed concerns into our new building, hopefully having the opportunity to share with them the building and hopefully be in a place where we can build friendships across these lines.”

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