New Orleans Within the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Section 3 is nothing new after 45 years of enactment, but it remains a powerful weapon for creating employment in low income communities that is more often left in the holster than used effectively. Simply put, Section 3 requires HUD contractors to give what we used to call “first preference” to qualified residents when making new hiring decisions. This is not a set aside for businesses like most of the programs, but an individually driven hiring program. That is, if workers in the community know about it, if anyone in HUD or the local housing authorities are paying attention to it, and likely if there is an actual organization in the low income community kicking both of their buns to make sure Section 3 is not a dead letter but a real job creator.
I was reminded of the power and promise of Section 3 and the too often pathetic performance by an article in Shelterforce by Katy Reckdahl that spoke of “lifting the fog on Section 3.” Reading the article it was clear that it was less a “fog” than a problem of indifferent and nonexistent follow through and enforcement by those responsible or as she wrote, “…agency administrators spoke in a chorus on one point: No Section 3 jobs program will work without stringent monitoring.”
And, let’s be clear, the monitoring at every level sucks. Before 2006, HUD only got 4% of the required Section 3 reports from local and state governments and housing agencies. Now the figure is up to 25%, but that’s still a failing grade everywhere. Worst, most should get both F’s and Incompletes, because 80% of the reports according to HUD testimony to Congress indicated that they “failed to meet the minimum goals and did not include valid explanations for this failure….”
The loopholes Swiss cheese the program as well. Though required to hire low income workers for 30% of the new hires, there are no requirements that their work will equal 30% of the hours billed on the job, so some contractors “churn” the jobs by hiring a crowd of workers for short term, even one day stints, as laborers to make the numbers required at the lowest wages they can skate by with. Training also is defined as “to the greatest extent feasible,” providing another loophole, which some smarter agencies have abandoned to prevent contractors from shrugging off the requirement by saying no one could make muster.
All of which makes Section 3 tailor made for community organizations trying to deliver jobs to their members when there are large and small construction projects happening in housing projects. It’s a straight up fight where everything is on our side and it’s possible to negotiate not only jobs but the tools to make sure members get the jobs from record inspection to hiring observations to even union cooperation in helping populate apprenticeship programs that are often searching for applicants. The targets are dirty, the meetings are public, and there are jobs waiting to be won, if we’re willing to get back in the saddle and ride hard on these outfits.