For immigrant contractors working in Flushing, Queens, many of whom speak broken English at best, jobs have most often come from within their own Chinese community: remodeling one-bedroom and two-bedroom apartments in the neighborhood, improving basements, perhaps adding patios or terraces to stand-alone homes. Many of the Mandarin-speaking craftsmen work without city licenses, risking fines of up to $250,000 if they're caught by city inspectors.
Since last year, the city's grant program has had the effect of helping to rein in the off-the-books workforce and encourage so-called micro-entrepreneurs—who work for themselves or employ up to five people full-time—to play by the rules.
Last year, the Queens Economic Development Corp. won a $100,000 grant from the city's Economic Development Corp. to establish a training program. The result: 130 contractors, many of whom worked illegally in the past, passed the licensing test in Mandarin.
"Some of our contractors have now been successful getting contracts throughout the city now that they have a license and entering the mainstream market," said Franklin Mora, deputy director of the Queens Economic Development Corp.
The grant to the Queens nonprofit that paid for the training program was won in a competition run by the city and funded by Deutsche Bank.