Bringing work back for local residents and minority and women contractors

David Brint of Brinshore surveys one of the rehabs that is helping revitalize two Evanston Illinois neighborhoods – and bring work back to the community.

For Robin Rue, driving through Grey Avenue in Evanston, Illinois’ west side neighborhood in 2008, the yellow and black bank repo and foreclosed home signs that jutted from front lawns throughout the area were not only reminders of the housing crisis and ensuing recession that had swept the nation, but of the significant challenges facing her own business, Signature Construction Services, Inc.

“When the recession hit, I had to lay off half my laborers,” said Rue. “Then, and even now, the average homeowner was doing a reduced scope of work on their homes, or attempting to do it themselves, or putting off projects altogether.

For us, the work just wasn’t there.”

Bill Smith, Executive Director of Community Builders of Evanston, agreed. “People weren’t building or spending money on construction at all,” he said.

Across the nation, from Evanston, Milwaukee and Cleveland to Syracuse, Omaha, and New Orleans, the story has been the same for those in the construction trade: residential rehab opportunities were drying up, particularly for smaller minority and women-owned construction companies. While many companies have been forced out of business, for Smith and Rue the housing crisis has led to new opportunity – thanks to work from the City of Evanston and the perspective and practice of Brinshore Development.

In 2010, the City of Evanston received $18 million through the federal government’s Neighborhood Stabilization Program – NSP 2 –to purchase 100 foreclosed properties and rehabilitate them as for-sale and rental housing.

BCM LLC, an affiliate of Brinshore Development, was appointed as the general contractor to take charge of the execution of the rehabilitations and used the opportunity to bring both housing AND jobs back to the community.

After two years, the program has yielded success for home buyers, neighbors and contractors alike.

“When the NSP opportunity came along, it created a great opportunity for my business through collaboration with Brinshore and BCM. They committed to awarding a minimum of 25% of the total construction costs of each development to Evanston-based, Hispanic-owned, woman-owned, and Black contractors, and I happen to meet three of those criteria.”

Rue’s company was awarded work as part of the NSP 2 program, and she’s seen her business not only rebound from the early days of the recession, but grow. “I’ve grown substantially since the NSP 2 project began and since starting to work with Brinshore and BCM,” said Rue. “It’s greatly benefitted my business and my business experience, and has given me an opportunity to get involved in construction right here in my community. I’ve grown my business, been able to employ people in the community, and made a difference in their lives and transform the community as a whole.”

Smith, whose company does a variety of work, from demolition, renovation, remodeling and new construction to asbestos, lead, and mold remediation, successfully bid on and completed several projects, and has several more in the pipeline. While he remarked that he has had some trouble with the up-front costs associated with the contracts that Community Builders has won, at the end of the day he believes that the work has greatly benefitted the community.

“When you step back and say why were these projects created, you realize that the nature of the project is to get these boarded up, foreclosed homes rehabbed and back on the market, and we’ve been successful in doing that,” said Smith. “It’s good for the community because you don’t have a lot of these boarded up houses sitting around that lead to adverse behavior. And at the end of the day property values for other homeowners stabilize and some contractors get some work that they might not have gotten otherwise. Though the margins may be tight, some work is better than none.”

Through funding from the projects created by NSP 2 and overseen by Brinshore, both Rue’s Signature Development and Smith’s Community Builders have been able to make local hires and expand their workforce. Smith noted that he has been able to keep people on whom he would have had to otherwise fire, and has been able to add some additional local workers.

Rue made four local hires and numerous part-time or per-project hires, and her company has been kept with a full plate of work.

“We’re currently working on three different projects, I have contracts to work on a few more going forward, and we still have more bid packages, so there’s opportunity for more,” said Rue. “I’ve been able to buy additional equipment where I previously had to rent. Brinshore and BCM have been great to work with, and provided me with a great opportunity. Not only did it keep my business going, but it increased it as well.”

Working with local women and minority owned firms was not new to Brinshore – it is a core practice of the firm.  Most recently Brinshore received similar praise from the City of and contractors in Milwaukee for its collaborative work on Century Lofts, a 34-unit new construction development.

In Milwaukee, Jon Matthews, owner of TL Reese Construction, lauded Brinshore and BCM for their commitment to both working with minority-owned contractors and putting local residents with construction skills to work.

“That’s one of the benefits of working with Brinshore,” said Matthews, whose company was awarded two contracts by BCM. “They have a commitment to hire someone from within a certain area code surrounding the project site, so you’re hiring people from within the community of the project. We’ve been able to hire a couple guys this way and also keep people working. We’ve found some great guys, and Brinshore has helped us locate some additional local workers skilled in construction.”

As part of its local hiring effort, Brinshore put TL Reese in contact with Milwaukee’s Residents Preference Program (RPP), intended to put unemployed city residents to work on city projects.

“We were able to hire some quality workers through RPP,” said Matthews. “BCM has pretty much given us the resources to get guys who have the skills but not the jobs in the areas surrounding the projects that they’re developing. Hiring these guys from the community, who want to see it revived, helps build the community back up.”

The stories of Rue, Smith and Matthews reflect Brinshore’s commitment to creating opportunities for subcontractors and residents local to the communities where Brinshore developments are located, and Brinshore’s community-inclusive approach has been implemented in its projects across the country, generating jobs for small, locally-based subcontractors and helping them stay in business despite the difficult economic climate.

“With a company like BCM, one committed to working with minority firms in the trade, it’s a great benefit for communities and an opportunity for us to show that we can do the work,” said Matthews. “They gave us the opportunity to reestablish ourselves and rebuild our communities one building at a time.”

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