Communities of color in New York City rely heavily on public infrastructure, whether it’s the student who needs the library for internet access, the senior who relies on the senior center for social connections, the owner of a black business needing a job in the city to grow their business, or the family waiting in their neighborhood playground for a comfort station.
For too long, we have accepted that building or improving our parks, community centers and libraries is slow and expensive, that improvements will come over time, that unwieldy bureaucracy reigns supreme. This must stop now.
Changing the way our local government builds things isn’t flashy, yet billions of taxpayer dollars are spent each year making an incredible difference in the daily lives of New Yorkers. That’s why we care about a reform effort launched by a task force convened by Mayor Adams and comprised of diverse labor leaders, the minority and women-owned (M/WBE) business community, and the construction industry. .
The Capital Process Reform Task Force rolled up its sleeves and developed 39 recommendations (nine of which require state legislation) that, taken together, will cut years off capital projects and save tens of millions of dollars each year.
But building faster and cheaper does not make for a successful reform effort. We must ensure opportunities for our disadvantaged businesses, which are addressed in several key recommendations from the task force. We should increase the threshold below which the city can use a streamlined procurement process if it contracts with M/WBE. The city should be able to build a centralized mentoring program similar to the successful programs at the School Construction Authority and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority that combine capacity building support with contracting opportunities.
We must also address insurance, a significant barrier for M/WBEs and small contractors who often struggle to find affordable and competitive insurance options. High insurance premiums make these businesses less competitive, because they pass higher costs on to public owners in the form of higher bid prices.
The City should be able to use both owner-controlled insurance programs and contractor-controlled insurance programs, which are comprehensive general insurance programs common on public and private sector construction projects. These programs create safe workplaces with clear security standards while removing a significant barrier to entry for M/WBEs.
The task force also recommended creating a New York State Insurance Fund pilot program to provide an additional insurance option for M/WBEs and small contractors. In addition, the task force also recommends allowing the city to use alternative project delivery methods, which we know can increase the use of M/WBE while providing much faster results for communities. For example, during the COVID emergency, when the city temporarily had access to many of these essential tools, the Department of Design and Construction built COVID testing sites in an average of seven days with 55% M/WBE utilization and built three permanent health care centers. installations in an average of 192 days with a 46% utilization M/WBE.
The state budget process is upon us, and this is our window of opportunity to act on the nine state legislative proposals recommended by the task force so that, outside of an emergency context, the city can use tools that we know work well. and simultaneously invest in M/WBE. Reforming the capital process will improve the lives of all New Yorkers, but it will have an even greater impact on communities of color. This is not only because our communities are disproportionately dependent on public works, but also because the reforms will level the playing field for M/WBEs.
Let’s make this the moment that we commit to providing real opportunities for M/WBE while providing world-class facilities and infrastructure to our communities. This set of proposals may not grab headlines or be discussed at the dinner table, but its impact will be felt by the communities we represent, who have had to wait too long for our government to deliver.
Dukes is president of the NAACP New York State Conference.