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Nancy Mccarthy of The Skanner
Published: 05 April 2006

When construction begins on the Housing Authority of Portland's Humboldt Gardens project, history will be made.
A partnership between a major contractor — Walsh Construction Co. — and a minority contractor — CJ Jackson Construction — is being formed to supervise and build most of the $17 million project.

While partnerships between subcontractors aren't unusual in construction work, general contractors usually bid against each other for jobs — they don't partner up to do the work on an equal footing.

"This equity model has never been tried in the United States before," said Lee Moore, member of the housing authority's board and co-chair of the Citizens Advisory Committee for the Humboldt Gardens project. Moore is the former director of construction and the former director of purchasing for the state of Oregon.

In its request for proposals for the job, the housing authority required that 20 percent of the work be done by minority- or women-owned businesses, and the Walsh-Jackson bid promised that at least 35 percent would go to those businesses. After considering the two bids submitted for the project, the housing authority board awarded the bid to the Walsh-Jackson partnership last month.

The partnership will enable Walsh, which expects to do work valued at $268 million this year and has built many of the affordable housing projects in Portland and Seattle, to share its expertise on administering and financially managing a multi-million-dollar project. At the same time, CJ Jackson Construction, which does more than $1 million in work per year, will share its expertise on working with community residents and local subcontractors to build a project that the neighborhood will accept and participate in.

"This way, you're not only sharing in the profits, you're sharing in the risks," Moore said.

Located on five acres between North Commercial and Vancouver avenues north of the state Department of Human Services office, Humboldt Gardens —formerly known as Iris Court — is a small garden court complex built in the 1940s. The 101-unit complex will undergo a transformation from 60-year-old one- and two-bedroom low-income apartments in four buildings to a modern development containing 129 units for single parents with children, families and the disabled with very low to moderate incomes. A Head Start center and police contact and management offices also may be located on the site.
Another 21 homes away from the site will be developed for sale to residents at or below 80 percent of the area's family median income.

The construction portion of the overall $40 million is being financed by a $16.9 million federal HOPE VI grant, the same type of grant that paid for much of the redevelopment of Columbia Villa, renamed "New Columbia" on 82 acres in the Portsmouth neighborhood of North Portland.

Bob Walsh, president of Walsh Construction Co., and Calvin Jackson, president and owner of CJ Jackson Construction, first worked together on New Columbia. Both Walsh and housing authority representatives said they were impressed with the quality of the two blocks — 20 units — of housing CJ Construction built.

"He has done a superb job," Walsh said. "He does high-quality work, and he stayed ahead of schedule."

When the Humboldt Gardens project came up "it seemed like a natural for us to expand his role," Walsh said.

Besides building 43 two- and three-story townhouses and flats at Humboldt, Jackson, who will be mentored by Walsh, also will be responsible for estimating and scheduling work, coordinating and supervising subcontractors, participating in the final design work and managing the project's budget, Walsh said.

In return, Jackson, who lives in and operates his 15-employee construction business from Northeast Portland, will help Walsh reach out to the Humboldt neighborhood.

"We will learn much more about the neighborhood and about the small subcontractors in North and Northeast Portland, especially the African American pool of subcontractors," Walsh said. "Hopefully, we will learn more about the hiring practices. CJ's success ratio at retaining subcontractors is better than ours."

Jackson, who has worked in the community for more than 30 years, agrees.

"I know my way around the community," he said. "I know what people are looking for, what people need and how to connect with people. I know how to build the buildings they need and I can build within the budget. When they put me to work as a contractor, they put the community to work."

His wife, Jennice Jackson, has experience working with students both at Portland Community College and in the Northeast area. Her contacts will help Walsh-Jackson work with students from the PortlandYouthBuilders organization and Jefferson High School, who are also expected to be involved in the project, either by helping with the construction or by learning building skills.

The "nice-sized contract" also will enable him to get to the next level of construction jobs, said Jackson, who originally learned the construction trade from his father in Florida, then acquired more techniques through a state training program there and later became involved in a local building boom. "It will allow me to be with the 'middleweights.' "

When he moved to Portland in the 1970s, Jackson worked at Freightliner by night and ran a maintenance company during the day. Later, he worked for Fred Meyer at night and continued to do maintenance and construction in the day. He built 14 houses in the Rosemont development in — Portland and 26 houses at Charleston Place. He also has done construction in Gresham and even built a house for a movie director in Burbank, Calif.

More partnerships, such as the one he formed with Walsh, should be done in the future, Jackson said. Instead of being given "second money" for work as subcontractors, smaller local companies should be considered for administrative roles as well. Then, he said, the jobs don't leave the community after the project is done because the local businesses can generate their own jobs.

"People need to be able to come to jobs in their neighborhood; they don't always need to go across the Broadway bridge to find work," said Jackson, who hopes eventually to establish a storefront business on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard and hire more local employees.

"I'm not just building for me; I'm building for the future," Jackson said. "My payment will be when no one can say 'Nobody here is qualified for this job.' I want to put a stop to that."

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