Linkages to Construction Jobs

Link Vulnerable Groups to Construction Jobs

 Increase affordable housing production and family opportunity by training people for construction jobs.

Construction site in River North, Denver (photo by authors)

What's the issue?

Lost income opportunities are a major problem in gentrifying areas. As commercial rents increase or long-time customers are displaced, small, local businesses can be displaced, which can lead to job losses for long-time community members. Alternatively, even of job opportunities stay, it may be difficult or impossible for people to commute to and keep those jobs if they are displaced out of the community. Thus, the loss of housing and support networks is compounded by a loss of income, and this loss of income can contribute to housing instability and homelessness by making the search for a new affordable home.

A separate issue that cities are facing is a nationwide shortage of construction workers, especially skilled electricians, carpenters, and bricklayers. This is especially true in rapidly growing cities like Seattle and Denver. A labor shortage can have the positive effect of pushing up wages for construction workers, but a lack of workers slows down new housing development, which in turn exacerbates housing shortages and rising prices.

How do construction job training and linkages help?

Municipal programs that link low-income and minority residents to construction jobs can tackle both issues at the same time. Job placement, training, and certification in construction trades harnesses gentrification to build wealth for vulnerable groups, and the national shortage of construction workers represents an untapped opportunity to address high levels of un- and under-employment among low-income residents. Additionally, as the construction workforce grows to meet demand, housing development could quicken, easing strained housing markets.

Cities could implement a training program similar to the CityBuild Academy, a city-sponsored 18-week construction training program in San Francisco. The program teaches vocational English as a second language to help increase skills and hireability, and it partners with community-based nonprofits like HOPE SF to target distressed communities. Cities would establish connections between construction employers and such a training program to ensure that people who go through the training do access employment afterwards.

Cities could even couple training programs with local hiring policies to ensure that vulnerable residents can benefit from their training. This tactic has been successful in both Los Angeles and San Francisco. In Los Angeles, community workforce agreements for building efforts have paired requirements for local hiring with strong apprenticeship programs for women, minorities, and low-income residents. As the only city in the country with a local hiring policy for construction for all public works, San Francisco also lifts its residents out of poverty and prepares them to participate in the wider construction industry.

"'We Build' Program Update & UCLA Labor Center Study Summary," Facilities Committee, The We Build Program, 2009.

When and where does this policy work best?

These programs would be most effective in growing cities struggling to meet the demand for new housing. In these areas, demand for construction workers is likely to be high, ensuring that there will be employment opportunity for those who undergo training. An increased construction workforce is likely to have the greatest impact on housing in these areas as well. Demand for new workers is likely to be higher in areas like Denver and Seattle, where development is easier and one of the only barriers to building more is a lack of labor. These programs might be more difficult to implement in areas where construction is difficult because there might be fewer job opportunities. However, Los Angeles and San Francisco have show that these policies can be effective and impactful even in cities where building is difficult.

When and where does this policy work best?

When and where does this policy work best?

What are some possible problems and how can we address them?

To ensure that these programs benefit vulnerable residents as intended, cities should match them with protections for construction workers - especially undocumented ones who may accept lower wages and other abuses.