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Liberty Square
[Photo: Lola Capers from RUNU Construction, with graduates from Employ Miami-Dade, and her new hires, Henry Farmer and Steve Lucien.]
Lola Capers from RUNU Construction, with graduates from Employ Miami-Dade, and her new hires, Henry Farmer and Steve Lucien.

Transforming lives and homes in a Miami Neighborhood

The long-awaited transformation of Miami's 80-year old public housing Liberty Square has already started.

In early August, more than 330 small businesses attended a meeting with Related Urban, the developer selected for the revitalization, to learn how to bid on $23 million worth of construction contracts for the first phase of Liberty Square. Plumbers, carpenters, electricians paid close attention to the requirements to be part of the largest revitalization project in the vicinity.

HUD's Section 3 program requires that recipients of HUD funds, to the greatest extent feasible, provide job training, employment, and contracting opportunities for low- or very-low income residents in connection with projects and activities in their neighborhoods. In Liberty Square, this is already happening.

When demolition started in May, several Liberty Square residents and neighbors who currently live within the boundary of the construction were hired as skilled laborers under the direction RUNU Construction, Inc., an African American owned small business general contracting firm that is Section 3 certified. Related Urban selected RUNU for site demolition, and to rehabilitate thirty previously abandoned units that are now temporary homes for residents who have been relocated because of first phase construction.

[Photo: Liberty Square residents and neighbors trained in several construction skills, now hired by RUNU to help with demolition of Liberty Square. From left, Henry Farmer, Leonard Johnson, Raphael White, Willie Phillips, Steve Lucien.]
Liberty Square residents and neighbors trained in several construction skills, now hired by RUNU to help with demolition of Liberty Square. From left, Henry Farmer, Leonard Johnson, Raphael White, Willie Phillips, Steve Lucien.

Lola Capers, partner and administrator at RUNU's, said the response from neighbors who want to work at the Liberty Square construction site has been overwhelming. Capers, in collaboration with Employ Miami-Dade selected 25 residents from the area and provided them with the knowledge and necessary skills to awaken abilities inside them they never knew they had. For some of the workers, having a previous criminal record has been is a major obstacle to employment. The team learned about remanufacturing doors and windows, painting, plumbing, drywall and stucco, electrical, and demolition.

These graduates of Employ Miami-Dade are part of a pilot program initially created to fill the gap between employers seeking skilled labor, and unskilled laborers who need skills training. At the completion of six-week construction class, graduates receive a basic tool kit, and several certifications such as the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the National Center for Construction Education Research. Six employees were selected to further their training with a one-week asbestos abatement course to gain additional certification.

The opportunity with RUNU has helped them with stable employment, at skilled wages that are higher than minimum wage. Henry Farmer, hired as foreman found hope. "My life has changed tremendously since I began working here, coming from nothing to a little something has changed my life a lot." Leonard Johnson also wanted to say thanks for a second chance. "I've been able to catch up on my child support, get my driver's license back, and buy a car."

Steven Lucien worked as a fast food worker for 21 years. "This is a great opportunity, I've learned skills such as electrical and plumbing. I would like to save up my money, and build my own business to become a contractor", said Lucien.

Willie Phillips is also ecstatic. After working temporary jobs as an administrative assistant for most of her life, now "bills get paid" and Phillips knows her new skills are marketable, and well-suited to find employment on any construction site at the completion of the Liberty Square redevelopment.

Please visit HUD's website for more information on Section 3.