Joliet officials unhappy with minority, local hiring at Water’s Edge

Brock A. Stein | 2/9/2017, 6 a.m.
Despite claims that 59% of the contracts for a Housing Authority of Joliet (HAJ) building project have gone to city-based ...
Water's Edge public housing development in Joliet. Housing Authority of Joliet

Despite claims that 59% of the contracts for a Housing Authority of Joliet (HAJ) building project have gone to city-based companies, Joliet officials are still dissatisfied that more local workers are not being employed at the Water’s Edge construction project.

Following a complaint made to the city and HUD, John Chow, the Chief Development and Operations Officer for HAJ said that the organization received a letter from HUD’s Chicago office stating that “the housing authority of Joliet was in compliance with section 3 regulations” which govern public housing projects.

The Water’s Edge project will replace 122 units in the former Des Plaines Gardens public housing complex, 367 S. Des Plaines in Joliet. The two-phase project is expected to create a less dense complex and create park space on two separate sites with the first phase of 68 homes expected to be up for lease in summer 2017, according to the HAJ website.

Joliet Mayor Bob O’Dekirk still wasn’t satisfied. He said he’s heard from residents who see a $19 million project being constructed in their neighborhood and “who are going to the job site day after day looking for work and they’re being turned away.”

O’Dekirk said that he and other city officials met with the project leaders in summer 2015 to address their concerns about seeing as many local contractors and workers be used on the project as possible.

“We were hoping to avoid this situation but obviously it hasn’t worked,” said O’Dekirk acknowledging that the HAJ has to abide by rules governing a federally-funded project.

“How do we cut through the bureaucracy to get people who are trying to work in that neighborhood on that job site?,” he asked.

HAJ CEO Michael Simelton said that officials overseeing the project were in the process of rebidding some of the work in order “to give the minority contractors in Joliet, and local contractors opportunities to bid.”

That could mean up to 20 more projects that are left to be completed at the site he said.

Local contractor James Foster however believes that the HAJ and Carlson Brothers, the general contractor overseeing the project, aren’t treating the bid process fairly.

Foster said that his company was given a $4,000 electrical demolition sub-contract after the bulk of the contracts had already been awarded. Foster said that he has attended seminars to learn more about the nuances of the section 3 rules but said that it’s been to no avail.

“We’re all just fed up with it,” he said acknowledging that he was the person who made the initial complaint to the housing authority

“When the heat was on that’s when they took it upon themselves to try to involve us,” said Foster.

Council member Terry Morris was especially unhappy with the way the project has been handled citing the use of contractors based in Bolingbrook and elsewhere who were deemed local.

“We sat down and talked before one brick was moved, before any dirt was moved…they came to the city for incentives,” said Morris. The city has waived building permit fees and water tap on fees for the project.

“All I asked…was to use as many Joliet contractors and people as possible.”

Morris said that he knows that the HAJ has to abide by the federal rules but disputed the use of contractors from outside of the city as a way to fulfill the local contractor and labor requirement.

“You didn’t go to Bolingbrook for incentives; you didn’t go to Plainfield, Frankfort,” he said, “you came to Joliet.”

“I’ve had it up to here,” said an upset Morris.