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Janey pushes for more equity in city contracts

Allocates funding to help firms compete for contracts

Morgan C. Mullings
Staff reporter covering state and local politics. Report for America Corps Member. VIEW BIO
Janey pushes for more equity in city contracts
Acting Boston Mayor Kim Janey, second from right, listens as newly appointed Chief of Equity and Inclusion Celina Barrios-Millner speaks during a news conference at Malcolm X Park regarding several new supplier diversity initiatives to address equity in city contracting. PHOTO: Angela Rowlings

Acting Mayor Kim Janey announced a $2 million supplier diversity plan, following up on the lack of city contracts for Black-owned and women-owned businesses revealed in the city’s disparity study.

Only 2.5 percent of the city’s $2.1 billion in contracts went to businesses owned by Blacks, Latinos or Asians. Black-owned businesses were awarded the smallest share at 0.4 percent.

Janey announced that a portion of the $2 million allocated to address the problem will go into a fund of $750,000 for businesses that need support before being able to bid for city contracts. Janey made the announcement at Malcolm X Park, where she is piloting a contract for renovations that minority and women owned businesses to participate in.

“This is an amazing park, and we need to make sure that we continue to invest and take care of it,” Janey said during the press availability April 7. “Through this pilot, a diverse array of businesses will have the opportunity to make improvements, such as upgraded basketball courts, new tree plantings and accessible tennis courts.”

On April 28, the city’s Office of Economic Development will hold a virtual fair, where minority contractors can meet directly with buyers and get to know them for potential projects.

“And with new measures to hold ourselves accountable, we’ll help advance supplier diversity,” Janey said.

Celina Barrios-Millner, the city’s new chief of equity since Karilyn Crockett’s resignation, made her first appearance with the new mayor at Malcolm X Park to explain how the city is taking an equity-informed approach to the problem.

“As a Latina immigrant, I know how hard it can be to navigate spaces and systems that were not designed with you in mind, and in many cases were specifically designed to exclude you,” she said. Barrios said she is committed to ensure that the city is taking a community-informed approach to equity.

A few local organizations have demanded the city of Boston implement certain practices to give minority businesses a better chance at participating in contracts. Some hail Janey’s programs as a small-scale first step.

“We still stand by the fact that the city needs to take much bolder concrete steps toward addressing this problem head-on and ensuring that five years from now, the next disparity study doesn’t show that all we did was get to whole numbers but they’re in the single digits,” said Segun Idowu, director of the Black Economic Council of Massachusetts.

BECMA has specific supplier diversity recommendations for the city, including an investment of $5 million in technical assistance for minority business enterprises, and making minority business procurement a requirement for economic incentives.

As for the mayor’s new initiatives, Idowu expressed high hopes, given Janey’s history in tackling the supplier diversity problem during her time on the City Council. In January 2019, BECMA worked with then-Councilor Janey and Councilor Michelle Wu to bring attention to the fact that 0.5% of contracts were awarded to minority business owners. In November 2019, Mayor Martin Walsh signed an executive order to address the issue.

“They passed the ordinance that required the city to create a supplier diversity program, but more importantly, it required them to publicly and regularly report how the city was doing,” Idowu said.

Priya Lane, director of the BizGrow program at Lawyers For Civil Rights, works with minority business owners who would directly benefit from Janey’s plan.

“I think that there’s still work to be done, but we’re excited about working with the city to really make concrete and long lasting changes,” Lane told the Banner.

She said there are janitorial, catering, plumbing, general contracting and many more types of small businesses she speaks to every day that could easily contract with the city.

“It’s not the lack of small businesses, minority owned small businesses, that’s a problem. It’s the lack of willingness, it seemed, from the city of Boston,” Lane said.

The initiatives Janey announced will start unfolding this month. The Boston Contracting Opportunity Fund will award grants of up to $15,000 to women-owned, minority-owned and veteran-owned businesses. Business owners interested in learning more can attend virtual sessions with the city on Tuesday, April 13 or Thursday, April 15.

The city’s supplier diversity team has already been created with five full-time staff positions to develop more inclusive procurement practices.

For the pilot contract to help update Malcolm X Park, the city held its final community meeting presentation on January 21.

For information about small business resources and city contracts, see
www.boston.gov/departments/economic-development

See recordings of virtual information sessions at
www.facebook.com/EconDevBoston/videos

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