JEFFERSON PARISH — Jefferson Parish Councilman Mark Spears’ plan to make sure that the parish’s low-income residents find jobs when certain federal money flows into the parish’s coffers is slowly taking shape, but the program still has a long way to go.
Spears pushed through new guidelines earlier this year that mandated exactly how Jefferson Parish companies must comply with guidelines set by the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development on hiring for federal projects. HUD requires that low-income residents, and businesses that hire those residents, receive hiring preference on projects funded through money the agency provides local governments.
Spears began discussing the issue in January after he determined that the way Jefferson Parish previously checked for compliance wasn’t adequate.
In the past, contractors could avoid compliance with what are known as Section 3 guidelines by reporting that they either hired no new employees for their projects or couldn’t find any qualified employees that met the income requirements set by Section 3. Spears said that made it too easy for companies to ignore the rules and to overlook those residents whom the program was created to assist. He wants that to change.
“Now we have a policy, and it’s about compliance. Just making sure we are complying,” Spears said. “I don’t want it to be done as it was done before.”
Under the new ordinance, the parish will more closely monitor compliance and set certain benchmarks companies must meet. The ordinance requires that companies dedicate 30 percent of their new hires and training to Section 3-eligible residents. It also requires that the highest priority be given to those residents who live in the area where the projects happen. Lower priority is given to those residents who participate in public or social service programs.
However, the biggest beneficiaries under the new rules are those companies who are eligible for the Section 3 program. The ordinance requires that 10 percent of all Section 3-eligible construction and renovation projects be dedicated to eligible businesses, and 3 percent of non-construction projects must go to those firms. If the company awarded a contract reports it cannot find any Section-3 eligible businesses to meet the parish’s guidelines, that company must pay a penalty based on the size of the contract.
Spears also pushed the parish to create a central database of residents and companies that meet the Section 3 guidelines in order to make compliance easier for other firms.
Anatola Thompson, the director community development, said her office is working to figure out the best way create that database.
The parish has reached out to Houston and to state officials to see how they handle compliance, and she is trying to determine if the database can be created and maintained by a parish employee or be contracted to a private group.
“That’s another piece we have to set up,” Thompson said.
Thompson said it’s still not clear how the parish would monitor compliance with the new ordinance, or how it would certify that companies who seek inclusion in its database actually are eligible.
The parish also would need to determine the best way to solicit companies to participate in the database.
Thompson said she would like to have the program set up by August, but right now a lot of details about the system just aren’t known.
“Right now it’s just premature,” she said. “It’s just in the infant steps right now.”
Spears said he understands it will take time to get things moving, but he sees the program as a priority.
The parish is expecting to receive more than $16 million from HUD for construction projects later this year, and Spears wants the most needy residents able to benefit from that money.
“Whatever makes sense, I just need for us to comply,” Spears said.