“Seeing is believing,” states the old saying.
However, Rev. William Moore couldn’t quite believe what he saw during a tour of housing construction sites in North Philadelphia early last week not far from the Tenth Memorial Baptist Church, on N. 19th St. near Master St., where the widely respected Moore has served as pastor for the past 38 years.
What troubled Moore the most was not what he saw but what he didn’t see.
Rev. Moore saw virtually no Blacks working on those bustling construction sites that are creating rental housing for students attending Temple University.
“On the ten to fifteen sites we visited I saw two African Americans working,” Rev. Moore said during an interview last Friday afternoon. That lack of Black workers, Moore said, “is representative of hundreds of sites in North Philadelphia.”
What Moore witnessed is another body-shot from the structural unemployment historically plaguing Black residents of North Philadelphia.
Sprawling North Philly, located several blocks north of Center City, houses Philadelphia’s largest concentration of communities containing rates of unemployment ranging from 20.2 percent to 37.2 percent according to data compiled this year by the Philadelphia Workforce Investment Board.
North Philadelphia — its lower and upper sections — contains “higher unemployment than citywide figures” according to statistics posted by the Workforce Board.
Citywide, Philadelphia’s unemployment rate hovers between 10 and 11 percent. Unemployment rates for North Philly and citywide do not include the long-term unemployed — making Philadelphia’s real unemployment rates much higher.
The purposeful exclusion of Black workers from the tens-of-millions-of-dollars worth of (principally) private sector student housing construction in North Philly parallels the exclusion of Black subcontractors, architects, suppliers and other professionals on those projects.
“The developers of many of these projects bring workers into the community everyday by the vanloads. These workers [many of them Mexican] are paid in cash every day. Paying these workers in cash avoids the payment of city, state and federal taxes,” Rev. Moore said.
This exclusion of Blacks on North Philadelphia student housing projects comports with the exclusion Black construction workers and Black-owned construction businesses from over a billion dollars of publicly funded construction currently underway across Philadelphia.
This purposeful exclusion is an enduring shame for Philadelphia yet public and private sector leaders (whites and increasingly Blacks) shamelessly skirt their duties to attack this illegal and immoral exclusion.
“City officials are co-conspirators with this institutional racism,” one knowledgeable source said. “When was the last time a Philadelphia mayor walked one of these private or public construction sites, saw this exclusion and expressed strong outrage publicly?”
This purposeful exclusion from employment and contracting opportunities is another vivid example of the societal prejudice aggravating the poverty/unemployment ravishing communities like North Philly.
Impacts radiating from this purposeful exclusion contradict the [purposeful] misperceptions that ‘ghetto dwellers’ possess a predilection for quality-of-life-crippling joblessness and impoverishment.
The poor housing, abandoned housing and razed housing plaguing North Philly arose in large part from purposeful public/private sector policies & practices like the Rizzo Administration withholding millions of dollars in federal Community Development housing renovation funding during the 1970s plus decades of ‘redlining’ by banks and insurance companies.
“The residents of North Philadelphia have endured years of hardships created by circumstances beyond their control including the absence of governmental investment in infrastructure, housing stock and social services,” James S. White said during City Council testimony in March opposing a measure to give owners of multi-unit rental properties in North Philadelphia unprecedented control over development decisions in that area.
White held ranking City Hall posts under two Philadelphia mayors, including housing related positions, served as Temple University’s chief operating officer and currently serves on Temple’s University board of trustees.
Guiding Rev. Moore on that construction site tour were Tom Massaro, a former City of Philadelphia housing director and Philadelphia Hospital Workers Union President Henry Nicolas.
Both Massaro and Nicolas live in North Philadelphia. And both Massaro and Nicolas have vigorously complained about some of that student housing construction in North Philly violating City zoning and building codes — blatant violations currently receiving the blind-eye from City Hall.
“Debris from some of that construction is dumped on vacant lots with cement running into the sewers. Plus, the dust, containing asbestos and lime, goes into homes. There is one playground at a daycare center where this dangerous dust coats the equipment every day,” Massaro said.
“There is one site where a developer is putting 72 units on three lots that under zoning are to have three single family homes,” Massaro said. “These developers are not even using the kids from YouthBuild (charter school) who are trained in construction and go to school blocks from these building sites.”
Rev. Moore said he saw an “egregious” example of corruption where a city trash truck removed construction debris from one site where the developer is supposed to retain private removal instead of paying-off city workers for removal.
Rev. Moore said people in North Philadelphia want to work.
Moore referenced a job fair held in North Philly three months ago, sponsored by state Rep. Curtis Thomas, where the line to get inside stretched nearly two blocks.
Thomas, during an interview with a Philadelphia Tribune reporter about that jobs fair, said, “… there’s systemic unemployment with folks having barriers cutting off access to opportunities.”
Rev. Moore said city officials must address “uncontrolled development” in North Philadelphia.
Linn Washington Jr. is a graduate of the Yale Law Fellowship Program.