Beyond the Rhetoric: What you should know about the great Bill Crawford—Part 2

| October 30, 2015
Harry C. Alford, President, National Black Chamber of Commerce

Harry C. Alford, President, National Black Chamber of Commerce

By Harry C. Alford

NNPA Columnist

Indiana was beginning to change. The Hoosier Minority Chamber of Commerce was taking form with the moral support of the Concerned Clergy and Indiana Legislative Black Caucus led by the efforts of State Representative Bill Crawford. We got the two major utility companies in Indianapolis to come into compliance with federal guidelines regarding minority business utilization. There were a lot of new targets for us and Representative Crawford picked the next one. It would be inner city housing construction.

I was driving down College Avenue, when I saw Bill step out into the street and flagged me over to the curb. He was intense and a local contractor, Mr. Powell, was with him. He said, “Harry, Powell’s 12 year old son looked across the street from their home and asked, ‘Daddy why aren’t you working on that home?’”

Powell then said that the house had been financed by the neighborhood association.

Here was a neighborhood association hiring white contractors from outside the jurisdiction. There were plenty of black contractors living in that association’s boundary. That’s a problem. I told them I would have a report at the next Concerned Clergy meeting. Most American cities have neighborhood associations. Their duty is to assist in the economic empowerment of local neighborhoods by affordable housing—particularly on empty lots, abandoned homes and buildings. I started detecting something “rotten” in this process.

There are 14 neighborhood associations in Indianapolis recognized by the City of Indianapolis. They are governed by volunteers who live in those designated neighborhoods. They would issue the contracts, often no-bid process. Funding would flow from the Mayor’s office via HUD Community Development Block Grants, foundations, philanthropists, etc. The funding is first parked in a Community Development Corporation (CDC). Each CDC would oversee the spending process of a particular neighborhood association and, therefore, would have significant influence on the decisions of the neighborhood associations. This was the problem. CDC’s were being chaired by people (usually white), who did not live in the particular neighborhood association and that was part of the reason why white contractors who did not live within the area’s covered by the association were hired to work within predominately black neighborhoods. The local black contractors were being boxed out of their own neighborhoods.

There was another big problem. These “affordable homes” were being built for unreasonable prices. The contractors were jacking up the cost. Then local realtors would sell them at the high rate and declare a new comparable rate for homes in that block. For example, if there was a sold home that is 3,600 square feet with three bedrooms and two full baths, then all future homes of comparable size will be valued at that rate. The contractors were overcharging; the CDC went along with the scheme and realtors sold the homes at inflated rates. As the rates would increase, fewer Blacks could afford them. Thus, gentrification would start to set in and black neighborhoods changed to White ones all with the blessing or ignorance of the neighborhood associations. This game is still being played throughout the nation.

I gave my report at the Concerned Clergy meeting. After our anger calmed down, we resolved to change the system. All chairs of CDC’s must live within the neighborhood association they were governing. I wrote each CDC chair and demanded his/her immediate resignation. We had a press conference and proclaimed that contractors working within the neighborhood associations must itemize the cost of their labor, services and supplies. Some of our larger contractors would estimate fair selling prices for the work done and inform us with their opinion.

Indiana license plates are coded by the first two numbers on the plates, so it was easy to determine which county a contractor was from. At that time, any cars with outside numbers might have been in danger of getting their tires slashed. In other neighborhoods, out of state cars would possibly be towed. This was all over the news, as CDC chairs began to resign. One person from the upscale suburb of Noblesville called me and asked me to explain. I in turn asked him if he would want someone from East Indianapolis to be chairing a housing association or CDC in Noblesville. In the end he admitted that we made sense and resigned.

Mayor Steve Goldsmith understood our issue and stayed in the background. At last, our neighborhoods were starting to really get empowered and contractors like Powell started getting significantly more work. It was all over the news. We completed the process within two months and the Concerned Clergy and Hoosier Minority Chamber of Commerce was starting to get a reputation. People with complaints would get speaking opportunities at the Concerned Clergy meetings and we would address their concerns.

Those days were beautiful and I miss them—especially with Bill Crawford.

Mr. Alford is the co-founder, president/CEO of the National Black Chamber of Commerce®. Website: www.nationalbcc.org Email: halford@nationalbcc.org.

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Frost Illustrated is Fort Wayne's oldest weekly newspaper. Your Independent Voice in the Community, featuring news & views of African Americans since 1968.

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