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Special Feature: AFL-CIO in the Gulf Coast

hitbit.jpg Return on Investment: How workers and their unions will rebuild the Gulf Coast.

In June 2006, the AFL-CIO, a national federation of 53 labor unions representing 9 million workers, launched the Gulf Coast Revitalization Program—a $1 billion housing and economic development program. Over the course of the next seven years, the initiative will create low- and moderate-income housing, a low-cost mortgage program, hospital and health facilities, job training services, and thousands of high-wage union jobs throughout the region. The program, which represents one of the largest community investment enterprises in the region, is designed to encourage additional private ventures in the Gulf Coast.

Says New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin of the federation’s commitment, “Labor is stepping forward in a big way to help us make this difficult job an attainable reality.”

The revitalization program is financed by the AFL-CIO’s Housing Investment Trust (HIT) and Building Investment Trust (BIT), which leverage worker pensions for development projects built with union labor. “We are planning to become significant investors in the economic development in the region,” says AFL-CIO President John J. Sweeney. “We’re putting our union pension funds to work in the restoration and rebuilding of the Gulf Coast region.”

While the program is the labor federation’s most ambitious project to date, it is not the first. The initiative builds on the success of similar AFL-CIO investment strategies to develop affordable housing in Chicago and to help New York City recover from the devastating terrorist attacks of September 11.  HIT’s $750 million investments in post-9/11 New York are now worth $2.1 billion, proving that conducting business that lifts people up can provide high financial returns.

In addition to meeting the needs of Gulf Coast residents and communities, the program is a bold move designed to redefine the nation’s priorities. Says Sweeney, “This is about building a real movement in our communities and workplaces, and organizing around a new vision of common good.”

One year after the nation collectively witnessed the devastating tragedy of Katrina unfold, many of those who initially reached out have abandoned this community still in dire need of time, money, and attention. Companies have pulled out of the area, and the government has failed to deliver on its promise of helping to rebuild the devastated Gulf Coast and the lives of its residents. Hopefully, the AFL-CIO’s forward-thinking initiative to rebuild communities and stabilize families is one of many remarkable efforts in that region to come.