The city pours tax dollars into building, supporting and providing services for major private developments such as hotels, office parks, sports stadiums, upscale residential complexes and retail outlets. Developers make huge profits, but results for the community are mixed:

1. Most jobs created are lower-wage, with few benefits and no career path.

2. Development raises land costs, so everyone has to pay more for real estate. As a result, small businesses close and working families have to move farther out or away to other cities.

3. The city’s tax base diminishes as the middle-class shrinks. This counteracts the development’s addition to the tax base, which is usually the main reason the city wants development.

4. Quality of life goes down. For instance:

  • Longer commutes lead to more traffic congestion.
  • Lower pay means people have to work longer hours, have less time with their children.
  • Public services are spread thin.
  • The city’s crumbling infrastructure is further stressed.

Every development project offers policy-makers a choice: the development can benefit or burden community residents and taxpayers.

How can development be made responsible?

Local governments can require “Community Benefits” from developers, such as:

  • Creation of living wage jobs
  • Guarantees of health care benefits for employees
  • Construction of affordable housing
  • Donations to community services
  • Commitments to open space and parks

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CBAs

What is a Community Benefits Agreement?

A Community Benefits Agreement, or a CBA, is a legally enforceable contract, signed by community groups and by a developer, setting forth a range of community benefits that the developer agrees to provide as part of a development project.

A CBA is the result of a negotiation process between the developer and organized representatives of affected communities, in which the developer agrees to shape the development in a certain way or to provide specified community benefits.

In exchange, the community groups promise to support the proposed project before government bodies that provide the necessary permits and subsidies. The CBA is both a process to work towards these mutually beneficial objectives, and a mechanism to enforce both sides’ promises.

From Community Benefits Agreements: Making Development Projects Accountable,by Julian Gross, 2005

CBAs: Redistribution of power to community coalitions

In Empowering Communities, a paper published in the Journal of Planning Education and Research in March 2008, CPI Research and Policy Director Murtaza Baxamusa explains the new process that empowers grassroots coalitions to negotiate agreements with developers.  His two models are large projects at the Los Angeles airport and San Diego’s downtown ballpark, where developers agreed to provide living wage jobs, affordable housing, green building standards and other benefits for the community. The paper is based on Baxamusa’s PhD dissertation.

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Resources

The Partnership for Working Families is a national social justice network advocating reform of development policy to include community input and tracking the social and economic costs of public investment.

Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy is a research and advocacy organization that has won several landmark Community Benefits agreements in Los Angeles since 2001.

Good Jobs First is a national resource center on “smart growth” and accountable development.

ACCORD (A Community Coalition for Responsible Development) is a coalition of grassroots organizations in San Diego dedicated to enhancing the quality of life for low-income workers and residents by ensuring that development projects create good jobs, affordable housing, and a healthy environment.

Affordable Housing Resources

San Diego Housing Commission
Locations and contact information for affordable housing in San Diego County.
The San Diego Housing Commission is a resource for listings and information on affordable rental and for-sale housing.

Community HousingWorks
Community HousingWorks is a local nonprofit providing access to affordable housing, community programs and training, and guidance for homeownership.

San Diego Housing Federation
The San Diego Housing Federation is a coalition of affordable housing developers, advocates and other organizations committed to encouraging the development of affordable housing for individuals and families in need.

Affordable Housing Task Force
A link to the full report providing recommendations to address the shortage in San Diego’s affordable housing market.

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