April 21, 2011 | General

Deconstruction As Community Development Tool

BioCycle April 2011, Vol. 52, No. 4, p. 26
Building deconstruction and valuable material resale creates green businesses as well as jobs with decent wages and benefits, adding quality to quantity of the U.S. recycling movement.
Neil Seldman

TEN years ago, the Office of Community Services within the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), asked the Institute for Local Self-Reliance (ILSR) to determine the feasibility of building deconstruction as a community development tool. The answer is yes.
Building deconstruction and valuable material resale creates green businesses as well as jobs with decent wages and benefits. When buildings are deconstructed rather than demolished, employment improves, workers are trained, neighborhoods revitalized, real estate values increased and lives improved.
Retail outlets commonly known as “Restores” can contribute as much as $1 million per year to a community by lowering costs of building materials and accessories. Materials cost $.20 to $.85 on the dollar as compared to new purchases. Saint Vincent De Paul in Eugene, Oregon has reduced the cost of living 1.5 percent through sale of refurbished appliances, mattresses, furniture, clothing, books and affordable housing.
As noted in a previous BioCycle article (“The Evolution of Deconstruction,” June 2009), deconstruction continues to grow in the private sector with boosts from the public sector. Programs within the Departments of Defense, Housing and Urban Development and HHS have included deconstruction for several years. Federal Workforce Development and Neighborhood Stabilization, and Departments of Labor and Energy Block Grant funds under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, also support deconstruction activities. The private sector, including for-profit firms and nonprofit enterprises (often referred to as social enterprises), and community-based enterprises continue to expand. Public resources are used to train residents; new green jobs and career paths are growing rapidly.
The Building Materials Reuse Association (BMRA), the industry trade group, has developed a training program for agencies that receive federal funds for deconstruction. The BMRA holds annual training conferences; this year’s is in May in Hartford, Connecticut. The Reuse People, a deconstruction services company based in Oakland, California, has affiliates in seven cities, growing to 25 in the next decade. The company also provides a certified worker training program for new demolition companies.
All jobs and building takedowns are local. From Baltimore to Oakland, stable jobs and career paths improve workers’ lives. Skill training and regular paychecks boost self-confidence. These jobs are ex-offender friendly, a critical factor for cities struggling to find jobs and housing for hundreds of ex-offenders monthly. One man said: “With these skills, I might never have to look for a job again. I can have my own company.” Another said he never imagined he could sell anything legal in his neighborhood.
One trainee in Hartford, Connecticut helped take down the public housing unit he grew up in. He told a reporter: “Now I am in a union and I have health insurance for my four kids.” Three years after training, he was a foreman, making $26/hour, with a $10/hour benefit package. Instead of his family costing $50,000 annually in public dollars, he paid $11,000 in taxes.

Second Chance in Baltimore, Maryland began as a nonprofit social enterprise in 2003. It diverts materials from disposal and creates jobs for Baltimore residents. Second Chance now employs 75 workers and will add 25 more this year. The average wage is $14/hour. Trainees earn $10/hour until they pass a 16-week, zero-tolerance training program. Once trained, they are guaranteed jobs.
The company grosses $4 million annually from deconstruction service fees, sale of recovered materials and overstock donated by local companies. Second Chance trains local unemployed and underemployed workers. The trainers are crew leaders who once ran small companies, guaranteeing entrepreneurial training as well as on-the-job skills. In addition to common small business practices – quality control, professional sales displays, helpful salespeople, tax benefits for donations – Second Chance is built upon four features important for the success of all deconstruction enterprises.
Careful long-term planning: It took three years of careful business planning, stockpiling inventory, worker training, real estate research and negotiation before the enterprise opened its doors.
Negotiating for city warehouse space: Second Chance operates out of 200,000 square feet of downtown Baltimore warehouse space. The company began in a small warehouse and grew organically into a series of adjacent warehouses. These arrangements let Second Chance acquire real-estate equity.
Contract with city on takedowns: Under city contract, Second Chance has 30 days to recover materials from public buildings scheduled for takedown.
Contract with city for worker training and placement: Under another city contract, Second Chance trains residents to fill job openings. Most deconstruction and sales workers have permanent jobs at the end of training. Placement issues and costs are eliminated.

Credit for these arrangements lies with Second Chance’s entrepreneurial approach and Baltimore city agency officials’ nurturing of such an ambitious green enterprise.
Second Chance is a model for both local and regional activity. It is tied closely to the Baltimore community, government agencies and private companies, yet it has become an anchor for projects ranging as far away as New Jersey, Ohio, New York and Virginia. Crews bring back inventory from these locations to the Warner Street retail space.
Second Chance’s geographic scope seems to have spawned other deconstruction enterprises in the region. Community Fork Lift in Edmonstion, Maryland, DeConstruction Services in Arlington, Virginia, and The Loading Dock in Baltimore are growing nonprofit and for-profit operations.
“We make lives better for people and families,” says Second Chance CEO Mark Foster. This is an understatement. In the 96 months the company will have been operating by the end of 2011, it will have created 100 jobs – slightly more than one job per month.
Other communities with deconstruction and restore enterprises are Pittsburgh (PA), Burlington (VT), Buffalo (NY), Portland (OR), Minneapolis (MN), Cleveland and Dayton (OH), Detroit (MI), Chicago, Los Angeles and Oakland (CA).

Neil Seldman is President of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance (ILSR) in Washington, DC. He has been a general contractor for deconstruction, demolition and affordable housing production projects. He is responsible for small business and job creation within ILSR’s Waste to Wealth Program.

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