Community benefits agreements rightly have received much attention from advocates, foundations, and academia. However, CBAs are substantially limited as a long-term strategy for shaping economic development. CBAs are extremely resource intensive for all parties, given that each lengthy negotiation governs only a single development project. In addition, CBAs generally address issues that are presented by most large, urban multi-use projects in low-income areas: local hiring, job quality, environmental mitigations, levels of affordable housing, and so forth. Arguments presented by community advocates regarding the importance of these issues to their communities, and the need for government to subsidize only projects with positive impacts in these areas, apply similarly to many projects.
Rather than having all parties fight these battles on a project-by-project basis, a better approach is to have local governments establish a slate of community benefits policies governing all large urban development projects, at least when subsidies are being provided. Local hiring policies, job quality requirements, environmental mitigations, and provision of affordable housing should be standard conditions of approval (or at least of subsidy) of large, multi-use projects in low-income urban areas. Such policies could set baseline standards while providing flexibility for unusual circumstances.
Policy language generally should provide for enforcement through private causes of action, letting intended beneficiaries of community benefits policies enforce those policies, in order to minimize the enforcement burden on local government. With the bulk of obvious issues handled through widely-applicable policies, CBA negotiations could then be reserved for issues that are truly project-specific: the desire of a community for open space or design changes in a project, for example, or the need for a grocery store or other particular community service at a certain location.
The Partnership's main site has extensive information on the many types of responsible development policies that can provide community benefits on certain types of projects.
Links below lead to brief discussion of two legal issues relevant to efforts to enact responsible development policies.