City moves forward with proposed building to serve day laborers near Colfax

"I want to assure the city taxpayers, though, that we understand that this is a temporary solution to the day laborers,” Council Member Sally Mounier said. “Our intention is to find a permanent location for the day laborers, hopefully close by so we’re not moving them too far away from where they’re accustomed to.

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Day laborers congregate along East Colfax Avenue in Aurora on Friday, Dec. 11. Photo by Gabriel Christus/Aurora Sentinel

Wage Theft

Day laborers wait for potential work on May 5 near East Colfax Avenue and Dayton Street. State officials say they deal with more than 400 reports of wage theft every month and local officials are launching a variety of measures aimed at combatting the problem. (Marla R. Keown/Aurora Sentinel)

Wage Theft

Marco Nunez, director of El Centro Hunaitario, informs day laborers of their legal rights on May 5 near East Colfax Avenue and Dayton Street. State officials say they deal with more than 400 reports of wage theft every month and local officials are launching a variety of measures aimed at combatting the problem. (Marla R. Keown/Aurora Sentinel)

Wage Theft

Day laborers wait for a potential job May 5 near East Colfax Avenue and Dayton Street. State officials say they deal with more than 400 reports of wage theft every month and local officials are launching a variety of measures aimed at combatting the problem. (Marla R. Keown/Aurora Sentinel)

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Day laborers wait for work around a vacant building Friday morning April 13 near the corner of Colfax and Dayton. Nearby business owners say the gathering of day laborers poses problems for themselves as well as customers. This issue has caused rifts between day laborers, city officials and business owners for more than two years. Aurora police officers said at an April 11 Aurora City Council committee meeting that they would form a task force to address the problem without infringing on the day laborer's rights. (Marla R. Keown/Aurora Sentinel)

AURORA | After nearly two years of negotiations, transactions and repairs, the city of Aurora is poised to soon be operating and partially managing a space for day laborers near the intersection of East Colfax Avenue and Dayton Street.

The city’s housing, neighborhood services and redevelopment policy committee Tuesday signed off on a proposal for city attorneys to draft a lease agreement between the city and a soon-to-be formed nonprofit organization, the goal of such a contract being to shore up the management duties of a parking lot and small building at 1521 Dayton St.

Council members Sally Mounier, Bob LeGare and Charlie Richardson sit on the housing committee.

The proposal is the latest step in a series of efforts the city has taken in recent years to address the public safety issues related to the day laborers who congregate each morning along the 1500 block of Dayton Street to find part-time work. For more than a decade, dozens of people, mostly men, have congregated on the street in north Aurora, regularly darting across the thoroughfare to hop into contractors’ trucks and relieving themselves in nearby alleys.

To address those issues, the city purchased the empty parking lot and small building — formerly a Nepali bodega — in 2016 with the intent of making the area a more amenable spot for the workers to gather.

The city purchased the land for $400,000 and has put about $100,000 of repair work into the small structure on the southeast corner of the lot, including a new roof, electrical system, bathrooms and asbestos remediation, according to Jason Bachelor, deputy city manager.

When council members initially approved the transaction, the intent was to create a temporary solution to the safety hazards currently facing the laborers on Dayton Street and hand off the management of the lot to a local nonprofit organization. El Centro Humanitario, a local nonprofit that works with day laborers, had been discussed as the potential manger of the area in the past.

But under the proposal approved by council members Tuesday, the Dayton Street lot would be managed by the new Aurora Economic Opportunity Coalition, a soon-to-be established nonprofit organization formed by several community leaders. Mounier, whose northern Ward I encompasses the block in question, Rich McLean, a longtime north Aurora resident and board member or Aurora Health Access, and Reid Hettich, pastor at the nearby Mosaic Church of Aurora, are the founding members of the organization. A board made up of local leaders will govern the group, which has yet to officially file for 501(c)3 status, according to Mounier.

“Our intention is to file for 501(c)3 to raise money, which I think would be my role — to help them raise the money — and then the other two (Hettich and McLean) (would) actually manage the program,” she said. “After four years we’re this close, folks, to having something really positive for the deplorable situation that our day laborers are facing.”

Mounier added that she’s proposed holding some classes at the small structure at 1521 Dayton St. She said she would personally be interested in leading a civics class there.

While a draft of the proposed lease has not yet been released, Mounier suggested entering into an agreement for three years. LeGare proposed leasing the new group the land and building for $10 per year, which is the same rate at which the city leases other buildings to organizations in the Aurora Cultural Arts District, including the Vintage Theatre. The committee agreed to move forward with both proposed stipulations.

At the committee meeting, Mounier reminded her colleagues the proposal is not intended to serve as a permanent solution.

“I want to assure the city taxpayers, though, that we understand that this is a temporary solution to the day laborers,” she said. “Our intention is to find a permanent location for the day laborers, hopefully close by so we’re not moving them too far away from where they’re accustomed to.

“But this parking lot and the building will eventually become … reverted back to the city.”

LeGare, however, pointed out the city attempted to move the throng of workers to a temporary worksite at 14th and Dayton in 2010, to little avail.

“There was a nice center created for them with bathrooms up at 14th and Dayton, and they went and they hung there for a day or two and then they went and they were back at 1550 Dayton,” he said. “This building was purchased because of the fact that they wouldn’t move and we may find that (again) three years down the road, so we just have to face the reality but, you know, hope that we can do something.”

Mounier said no matter what happens during the lot’s stint as a day laborer haven, the parking lot will eventually serve as a much needed parking lot for the arts district in the future.

The full council will discuss the proposed lease agreement at a future meeting.