BUILD prods city's social conscience Fairer share of jobs sought for blacks

May 30, 1993|By James Bock | James Bock,Staff Writer

Patsy Gladden, 48, worked for 17 years as a housekeeper at a downtown Baltimore hotel, but she never earned enough to move out of public housing.

Phyllis Neal, 35, a former $7.20-an-hour bookkeeper in a discount store downtown, can't find a new job that pays enough to cover her modest mortgage.

Even after years of public investment to redevelop Baltimore and create good jobs, too many African-American city residents like Ms. Gladden and Ms. Neal can't make enough to support their families, according to BUILD, a church-based group with a social agenda.

Over the past decade, BUILD has spearheaded the Nehemiah Project to provide homes for low-income people, including Ms. Neal, and developed the Commonwealth Agreement to guarantee jobs or college financial aid for qualified city high school graduates.

Now the group has set out to improve the quality of jobs for blacks in downtown Baltimore and to inject a renewed sense of social purpose amid the Inner Harbor glitter.

The group's reasoning goes like this: Hundreds of millions of public dollars have been spent or earmarked to subsidize Inner Harbor and downtown redevelopment -- most recently $151 million in state and city funds to expand the Baltimore Convention Center.

The beneficiaries of those subsidies, BUILD argues, have an obligation to create jobs that pay a "living wage" to city workers, particularly members of Baltimore's African-American majority. Therefore, a "social contract" is needed to enforce that obligation.

"Our community's cooperation and support and lack of raising a ruckus has been bought with the promise of sharing equally in development," says the Rev. Douglas Miles, a Baptist minister and BUILD (Baltimoreans United in Leadership Development) activist.

"This time it will not be business as usual," Mr. Miles says. "Too many people are locked out of a real opportunity to share and locked into part-time and dead-end jobs."

The group has proposed that the city, BUILD and the prime beneficiaries of public investment down

town, such as hotels, restaurants and retailers, enter into a "social contract" to guarantee:

* More full-time, year-round jobs with benefits that pay an as yet unspecified "living wage."

* An increase in the number of African-Americans in mid- and upper-level management jobs.

* A pool of money to train downtown workers for career advancement.

On Tuesday night, BUILD plans to pack Enon Baptist Church in '' West Baltimore with 800 members to test the support of Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, City Council President Mary Pat Clarke and other leaders for its proposed "social contract."

The group has lined up limited backing for its idea, but it isn't clear whether the support is lip service or a prelude to action that could affect the Convention Center money and future subsidies.

Hearings planned

Del. Howard P. Rawlings, the Baltimore Democrat who chairs the House Appropriations Committee, wrote downtown hoteliers an April 19 letter echoing BUILD's arguments ("It appears that only the low-skilled, low-paying jobs in the hospitality industry have gone to Baltimore's African-American community").

He said he would hold a hearing on "the impact of the hospitality industry on Baltimore."

Councilwoman Sheila Dixon, a 4th District Democrat, has scheduled a June 16 hearing of the Economic Development subcommittee that she chairs to let BUILD air its views.

City Council approval will be needed to issue revenue bonds to fund Baltimore's share of the Convention Center expansion, said William R. Brown Jr., city finance director.

Mr. Brown said that the city was also studying an increase in Baltimore's 7 percent hotel tax to raise revenue to pay debt service on the bonds. The council would also have to approve any tax increase, he said.

But politicians have not embraced the prospect of holding hostage the city's $50 million share of the Convention Center expansion while a "social contract" is developed.

Council President Clarke said she does not regard BUILD's proposal as a "quid pro quo" -- council approval of the $50 million bond issue in exchange for the business community's commitment to a "social contract" -- but "simply as a matter of social justice."

"What BUILD is trying to do is charge the battery again by reminding us all that part of the contract on development is to provide opportunities for young people that live in this city," she says.

Similarly, Clinton R. Coleman, a spokesman for Mayor Schmoke, said the mayor "supports the concept and wants to work with the group to bring about some positive developments toward their goals."

But the mayor has questioned the legality of putting social conditions on public subsidies. Mr. Coleman said the city's legal department was still researching the matter.

BUILD's Mr. Miles said, "Baltimore must address this issue now before another $50 million of city money -- our money -- is put into further redevelopment. It hasn't been worth doing for the African-American community. We haven't benefited equally."

Businesses skeptical

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