Letter: Find the win-win in community benefits
Change is hard, and Detroit is certainly going through plenty of changes. We can all be excited about the numerous development projects taking place in Detroit if we figure out a way to make sure we all get to the finish line together. I am very disappointed by the comments by the head of the Detroit Economic Growth Corporation earlier this week (Re: The Detroit News’ Oct. 7 article, “DEGC:‘Community benefits’ ordinance bad for Detroit”).
I hope that future conversations about development in the city and the possibility of a community benefits ordinance hold a spirit of finding win-win solutions. False or exaggerated claims about community benefits agreements and economic development without any supporting evidence have no place in a rational discussion about the future of development in our city.
The head of DEGC wants to talk about the linkage between community benefits and economic momentum. When considering other issues, many choose to compare Detroit to other cities as we mark our progress, so let’s do that. Let’s talk about economic development and community benefits in this same vein: What do developers, negotiators and municipal leaders in other cities have to say about community-benefit agreements?
In 2008, at the deepest point of the recession, Pittsburgh and other local entities developed a community benefits agreement for the Pittsburgh Penguins development. In return for $750 million in public investment, the coalition negotiated $32.5 million in direct community benefits including a first source hiring system for newly created jobs generating $4 million annually for local residents; a full service grocery store where 95 percent of the employees are people of color and 65 percent live in the community; among many other benefits to the community. These are the real outcomes that happen when there is a legally binding agreement.
In Oakland, Milwaukee and the Northwest Bronx, community benefits agreements have helped the local economy recover in a way that both makes profits for developers and also provides good jobs, affordable housing, and other important benefits.
Community benefits can help ensure that developers gain public support and address concerns early in the process rather than dealing with issues later. Community benefits help ensure that residents feel their taxpayer dollars are being spent in their best interest. Community benefits can allow municipal leaders to lead in areas of development, housing, jobs and the environment.
The bottom line is this. Saying that a community benefits ordinance will somehow “abruptly stop” all of Detroit’s economic momentum is not only false, but it is also incredibly unproductive and counter to the momentum we already have as a city and need to continue to build.
I applaud members of the City Council for taking steps to consider a community benefits ordinance. Detroit can follow other cities’ lead and hopefully become a leader in this area. There is still a long way to go to make sure that all Detroit residents, taxpayers and business owners thrive alongside the gains of developers in Detroit. I know that we can get there together but only with respectful dialogue based on facts.
Stephanie Chang, Democratic candidate for state representative, Detroit