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Brooklynites ask, 'Where the jobs at?'

CYRIL JOSH BARKER Amsterdam News Staff | 8/3/2011, 1:36 p.m.

Low-income and minority residents in Brooklyn say they are being left out in the cold while looking for jobs in developments springing up throughout downtown Brooklyn. An organization looking out for their interests, Families United for Racial and Economic Equality (FUREE), put together a job hunt last week, bringing together 50 unemployed young people. However, the search yielded no results, as they stopped at sites at the CityPoint development, MetroTech Center and others with no luck.

The sites were targeted by FUREE because developers received over $3.4 billion in private investments and $300 million in public subsidies while claiming they were going to create local jobs. Nevertheless, those jobs seem to be scarce to local residents, and FUREE is blasting the Downtown Brooklyn Rezoning Plan and the city for approving the development project in 2004, which promised 18,500 new jobs for community residents.

The Downtown Brooklyn Partnership, under the leadership of Joe Chan, formerly of the NYC Economic Development Corporation, touts bringing in 7,000 new jobs to the area, but even if this is true, members of FUREE pointed out that over 11,000 are still missing.

Stops on the job hunt included United American Land on Bridge and Willoughby Streets, Washington Square Partners and Acadia Reality of CityPoint. CityPoint received over $20 million in economic stimulus funding while only a handful of the 108 constructions jobs have gone to locals.

FUREE also solicited developments near the MetroTech Center run by JP Morgan Chase, Forest City Ratner and the Partnership. Ratner is at the helm of one of Brooklyn's largest construction projects: the Barclays Center sports arena.

Ratner, despite having received over $675 million in government aid, currently employs only 430 workers but pledges 17,000 new jobs. FUREE is also accusing Ratner of failing to deliver other community benefits as promised.

"We deserve to be a part of this community, not just as shoppers but as workers who can help support how this community works," said Anastasia Griffith, a FUREE youth member concerned about the lack of job opportunities for teenagers in the area.

FUREE members hand-delivered a letter to the Partnership requesting that they hold developers accountable, including those who sit on their board, commit to transparency and develop better ways to ensure community involvement in decision-making in area developments.

The letter also demanded that Chan co-create a jobs plan with community residents and make public the number of actual jobs created in the community, including how many of the jobs provide living wages and are permanent and full-time, much like how they promote luxury condominium developments on their website.

"The consequences of the rezoning and the actions of Joe Chan and other developers robbed many area residents of the chance to provide for their families. What happened here happens all over the nation: Tax money from the backs of hard workers like me go to fund rich developers and corporations while working families choose between paying rent or putting food on the table. We know that the recession is hurting everyone, and today we're here to hold the Downtown Brooklyn Partnership accountable for the economic security of all community residents, especially those they impacted the most," said Celina Lynch, FUREE board treasurer and Fort Greene resident.

Reports indicate that in response to FUREE's letter, a spokesperson for Chan said that the Downtown Brooklyn Partnership "has worked with area stakeholders to implement $200 million in public improvements and attract upwards of $2 billion in private investment."

The spokesperson added that, as a result, there are thousands of jobs, an improved public environment, more retail options in downtown Brooklyn and thousands of units of mixed-income housing.

Meanwhile, Forest City Ratner said that it has numbers to back up claims that it is hiring workers from the community. The figures they sent to the AmNews indicate that there are 612 workers on site and 228 of those workers are from Brooklyn. There have been 102 placements to date and 59 of these workers are still on site. Forty-nine of those placements are residents of community boards 2, 6 and 8.

Ratner also noted that their workers are all unionized, and that since construction started, they have averaged of 41 percent minority construction worker hours since the commencement of work at the project site.