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Green-minded community groups say state program is off on wrong foot

Passed by the New York Assembly, Green Jobs Green New York is aimed at improving energy efficiency in aging homes, using labor provided by minority and women-owned businesses. But more than a year after its passage, community groups in Buffalo and around the state say that’s not happening.

With an initial budget of $112 million, Green Jobs Green New York is tasked with creating 14,000 jobs weatherizing homes across the state. The work would including caulking, repairing heating and cooling systems and replacing windows.

The legislation was supposed to help low-income communities by using businesses that normally have a hard time competing for state contracts. So says Clark Gocker with community group PUSH Buffalo.

“Retrofit jobs in New York almost never go to people of color or women. They’re overwhelming the domain of white family-owned businesses, employing white male workers and serving a demand that has, until now, been limited to white homeowners,” Gocker said.

PUSH Buffalo is charging that the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority, or NYSERDA, which is running the program, has indicated it will do so in a way that violates the inclusive spirit of the legislation.

“In late September NYSERDA informed a select group of stakeholders, but no community groups, that they plan to establish no program-wide standards of any kind, but would create voluntary standards that choose to follow them,” Gocker said.

But NYSERDA Spokesman Jeffrey Gordon says many decisions haven’t been made yet.

“The legislation directed us to work with community-based organizations to ensure that the program reached every part of New York State, particularly in low-income communities. And that is what we have been doing,” Gordon said,

In addition to the hiring of minority-owned businesses, PUSH and other community groups say they want the establishment of a wage floor that pays laborers between $16 to $22 an hour. NYSERDA officials have told Gocker that a decision on the wage floor will come soon, now that the election is over.

Dorian Gaskin runs the Outsource Center, a group that could reap big rewards from the Green Jobs program.  His organization trains women and minorities in construction trades.

“With half of the young men in Buffalo being unemployed, this is an opportunity to change that. We never make enough noise about the 51 percent graduation rate in this city. This gives us an opportunity about the 49 percent that don’t graduate,” Gaskin said.

A handful of community groups in Rochester, Syracuse, Albany, and New York City also raised concerns about how the legislation is being implemented. NYSERDA’s Gordon says the program future will become clearer in a few weeks.

WBFO/Western New York reporter for the Innovation Trail.