Help the MWBEs

8/7/2014, 3:11 p.m.

Sixty-three percent of New York City’s population has been redlined from participating in the real estate development and construction industry in the most diverse city in the world. Over the past decade, the Bloomberg administration, the Metropolitan Transit Authority and the Port Authority of New York/New Jersey have awarded billions of dollars in public land and tax abatements to a small club of wealthy developers. They did so without requiring developers to adhere to city and state MWBE legislation. In 2013, according to the city’s comptroller office, African-American and Latino firms received less than 2 percent of the city contracts.

The Hudson Yards development is the most glaring example. The MTA awarded 26 acres of riverfront property in midtown and then agreed to extend a subway line into the development. This was done with no minority partners on the development and design/build teams. It’s the equivalent of someone giving your land away and then making you build a road for them to get to and from.

If we needed any more evidence that the system is biased against minority firms, you need only look at the Long Island College Hospital redevelopment project. In open competition against the largest developers in the city, two minority-owned companies were ranked one and two at the end of the bidding. Brooklyn Health Partners ranked number one, a team consisting of some of the top real estate and design/build minority professionals in the country. The Peebles Corporation, the largest minority-owned developer in the country, was ranked number two. Both were disqualified for dubious reasons, and the project was awarded to a local developer with no minority participation on its team at any level.

Unfortunately, these patterns are consistent with New York City’s history of a lack of inclusion for people of color in its economic life. Africans, along with the Dutch, are the oldest immigrants in the city. After 400 years, they remain economically, what Derek Bell called, “the faces at the bottom of the well.” Unlike immigrants of European descent, Africans and Latinos have never been fully vested in the economic life of New York.

For instance, both Jewish and Irish immigrants faced daunting discrimination and poverty upon their initial entry into New York. The Draft Riots were the result of mainly Irish immigrants’ rage at decades of systematic prejudice and poverty. “Why should we fight to free slaves who would flood the city and take their jobs?” was their thought. But ultimately, because of their European ethnicity, both Jewish and Irish immigrants eventually received full vesture in the economic life of the city.

As each new immigrant group was granted full economic participation, the Africans remained at the bottom. For more than 350 years, they were locked in perpetual competition with each new wave of immigrants for the city’s menial jobs. The Puerto Ricans, who arrived in the late 1940s and 1950s, like all other immigrants of African descent, were sent straight to the bottom. The Dominicans, Caribbeans, East and West Africans soon followed. Needless to say, it is getting crowded at the bottom of the well.