Community Benefits Agreement Panel Featured at NACEDA Convening in Detroit

November 6, 2013 -- Partnership for Working Families

At the National Alliance of Community Economic Development Associations’ (NACEDA) national convening in October, the Partnership joined a panel that explored how communities are implementing Community Benefit Agreements (CBAs) to leverage local investment for community-based economic growth.  The Partnership’s John Goldstein shared examples and best practices of coalitions, challenging local groups to think big and expand the possible outcomes of community benefits coming from projects in their cities.  He also provided best practices from around the country of how coalitions are making the most of new development projects.

The theme of this year’s convening was “What’s Working?” and for the first time, NACEDA took its conference outside of Washington, D.C.  Detroit, looking for economic stimulus after years of decline, was an appropriate setting for the discussion of how to get the greatest local returns from public investment in infrastructure and public/private partnerships. 

The idea for the panel came from Marla Newman of the Louisiana Housing Alliance.  CBAs are a big topic of discussion in New Orleans, where the promise of major re-investment post Katrina has yet to create a thriving local economy.  Marla posed the question of how Community Development Corporations (CDCs) and other NACEDA members could participate in CBA coalitions as part of their mission to change the economic landscape in poor city neighborhoods.

James Hunter, from the Sugar Law Center in Detroit, brought the challenges of Detroit into the conversation.  Years of decline and bankruptcy have challenged city residents to look for a new model.   Building effective CBA coalitions has been challenging, especially because the city’s weak economy has lacked resources to advance projects. 

The Sugar Law Center is joining with other groups to build Doing Development Differently in Detroit (D4), a permanent coalition that brings together unions, community groups, and others organizing around economic and racial justice.

The audience collectively gasped when they were told that in the same week that Detroit filed for bankruptcy, the state approved a $263 million subsidy to the owners of the Detroit Red Wings for a new hockey arena.  There has been debate in Detroit and among national experts about whether this is the best use of scarce resources. 

There is consensus that if the arena moves forward, local residents should have job preference and access to affordable housing, and that the overall design plan should include current residents, rather than pushing them out. 

D4, in partnership with the Corridors Alliance, is convening a CBA coalition for the proposed arena and the redevelopment of 45 blocks in the surrounding neighborhood.  The Corridors Alliance has begun a public engagement process on proposals to strengthen the corridor adjacent to the proposed arena.

Steve Dubb from the Democracy Alliance moderated a lively question and answer session.  The NACEDA audience was interested in a number of related issues.  Several audience members were already active in local CBA coalitions and had specific questions about how to strengthen their efforts.  Others were curious about how their existing toolkit of low-interest loans, community land banks, and affordable housing trust funds could mesh with the community benefit model.

For more information on community benefits agreements, click here.