Church group urges construction jobs for E. Balto. residents

A job advocacy group in East Baltimore plans to demand that the developer of a $1.8 billion redevelopment project north of Johns Hopkins medical campus hire more local residents for the next phase of construction, including work on a new public school and a state public health laboratory.

The group, Community Churches United, said Thursday it would meet later this month with East Baltimore Development Inc., the nonprofit leading the renewal of 88 acres in the Middle East neighborhood, to make its hiring proposals.

During a meeting Thursday afternoon at Triumph Christian Church on East Oliver Street, organizers told an overflow crowd, mostly unemployed men from the neighborhood, that all future construction projects should be required to hire at least half their workers locally.

"EBDI will continue to build in the community, and it's time for us to claim these jobs and make sure everyone in this room is working," said Jermaine Jones, an organizer, who estimated the community had unemployment levels of more than 19 percent. "I need everyone in this room to be ready to go to work."

EBDI aims to fill at least 15 percent of commercial jobs with skilled and unskilled minority workers, with the first priority given to residents, according to an EBDI plan that took effect in August. For residential projects, the goal is to have local minority residents fill 20 percent of jobs.

Christopher Shea, EBDI's CEO, did not attend Thursday's meeting at Triumph Christian Church and could not be reached afterward.

During a City Council hearing last month, Shea said that work so far had created 759 permanent jobs in East Baltimore, a quarter of which went to residents. In addition, he said, 813 construction jobs were added in the past year and a half, with 74 going to East Baltimore residents.

Organizers of Community Churches United, a coalition of local churches, called those levels unacceptable.

"Enough is enough. The existence as a black community is at stake," said organizer Richie Armstrong, referring to EBDI's relocation of 584 families from the Middle East neighborhood since 2003. "If we don't stop it today, our kids will be in the same kind of meeting figuring out where they're going to work."

The church group, which partners with the Laborers' International Union of North America to train workers in construction trades, proposes to become a partner with EBDI, offering a pipeline for trained, local workers to the construction jobs planned for the next decade.

The renewal project ultimately could include 1,500 to 2,000 new and renovated residential units and up to 1.7 million square feet of commercial space.

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