There has been a growing interest in community benefits in Ontario. Stemming from this, Community Benefits Agreements (CBAs) have been increasingly popular. CBAs are a strategic tool used when discussing the development of community wealth, specifically to mitigate the impacts of gentrification on a community. They typically outline specific programmatic and material commitments and are used to develop infrastructure projects through a transparent and inclusive process.
In the past, it has been common practice for significant economic developments to be built without the consultation of the community directly impacted by such projects. Through a CBA, these projects can be developed while also giving a voice to community members, especially those who have traditionally been excluded or marginalized.
CBAs are formed between various signatories, which differ based on the specific project. They are most commonly founded as a commitment between the government, contracting firm, and community. Neighborhood-based groups and other organizations representing causes, such as affordable housing, labour rights, a living wage, and environmental sustainability, form a coalition that advocates with community support to the contracting firm. The power in a CBA comes from the community. The community coalition must continue to pressure actively for better gains through protest, education, and engagement. CBN members work actively with developers, city staff, and other levels of government to bring the voices of the coalition to the bargaining table. Community Benefits agreements function best when an active and engaged group stands up and demands a voice on a project that could fundamentally change the neighbourhoods and cities they call home.
What is the CBA? image courtesy of the Northcoast Environmental Center.
The Community Benefit Movement and use of Community Benefits Agreements (CBAs) are thought to have originated as new money was flowing again into urban redevelopment projects, specifically in the late 90s and early 2000s in the United States. Urban renewal projects in the past usually involve a pattern familiar to Hamiltonians. One only need look at the massive blockbusting here in Downtown Hamilton, which gave us Jackson Square, the Civic Centre, Copps Coliseum, the Hamilton Art Gallery and the Ellen Fairclough Building. Whole historic neighbourhoods were destroyed, businesses displaced, and the core transformed. With previous generational experience with “Urban Renewal,” the residents in these areas organized. Money was beginning to flood back into the downtown cores of major cities to “redevelop” these areas that had been disregarded for a generation, causing high levels of poverty and unemployment. Local governments, cities, and states granted public subsidies and/or tax exemptions, hoping to attract developers to renew the long-neglected urban cores, hoping for renewed prosperity in these areas. Concerned about how these significant developments would impact them, residents living in these communities organized to oppose or demand a stronger voice in the coming change. Organizers leveraged community opposition to gain a voice at the table to advocate for a more equitable and inclusive process in the development. Opposition encouraged developers to deliver community benefits, often relating to affordable housing, community and environmental improvements, and employment opportunities.
The Community Benefits Movement in North America is generally considered to have begun in Los Angeles, sometimes called the ‘home of the CBA.’ At the time, a massive investment in the city center, the Staples Center project, referred to as the Los Angeles Sports and Entertainment District, was slated to be one of the most significant economic projects in downtown Los Angeles. The project proposed building a hotel, theatre, convention-center expansion, shopping, and expanded multi-unit housing. Community groups and residents expressed concerns about the effects of the project on the existing neighbourhood. The area experienced high rates of poverty, unemployment, and residents expressed concerns about traffic congestion, the loss of homes, increased noise, and possible displacement of residents. More than 30 community, environmental, labour, social services, and faith groups formed the Figueroa Coalition. This coalition negotiated an agreement that included a first source hiring program, living-wage requirements for 70% of project-related jobs, the inclusion of affordable housing units, parks and recreation investments in the neighbourhood, and consulting privileges for the coalition on the type of tenants for the development. After this considerable success, the Los Angeles coalitions have created several other significant CBAs, including the development of the public-sector Los Angeles International Airport.
Building on the success in Los Angeles, other cities in the United States began developing coalitions and creating CBAs. In Milwaukee, several parties owned a block of land, both public and private, with excellent development potential. No single developer or owner existed to negotiate with, and a coalition formed campaigning for the government to adopt a CBA county policy outlining clauses that would apply to any developer who eventually purchased and build on this land. Called the Park East Redevelopment Compact, it faced several setbacks in negotiations and court battles. Still, the successes springing from that collective power demonstrated the potential of CBAs and helped fuel their continued growth across North America.
Though having started a couple of decades ago in the United States, CBAs are still a relatively new concept that is slowly spreading to Canada. In 2010, the Vancouver Olympic Village was built under a CBA. The negotiating body was created by pre-existing tripartite agreements between the federal, provincial, and municipal governments. Since then, the Community Benefit Movement has evolved in British Columbia. On July 16, 2018, Premier John Horgan announced that crucial infrastructure projects would be built under a new Community Benefits Agreement (CBA) protocol. The protocol includes quotas for apprentices, preferential hiring of women and Indigenous workers, and a stipulation that workers on the projects must be unionized. BC has moved forward with mandating CBAs and Union Trade employment in all significant provincially-funded infrastructure. Further legislation passed by the BC government set up a crown corporation to manage government building projects and CBAs. The City of Vancouver and other municipalities in BC are also undertaking CBAs in all local procurement and development in their cities.
In Ontario, CBAs began with the redevelopment of Toronto’s Regent Park neighbourhood. Regent Park community was initially built in 1948 in an experiment of purpose build social housing. The top-down nature of the development created a community isolated from the rest of the City of Toronto. It contained no public transit or decent road or sidewalk connections to the broader City. There was no room for commercial space, and food and retail options almost non-existent. The plan to revitalize Regent Park was a mix of rental and condominium buildings, townhouses, commercial areas with community facilities, active parks, and open spaces. Though there was criticism regarding the extent to which existing residents were involved in the discussions and negotiations, including criticism of the new affordable units' size and the breakup of existing communities, the CBA was ultimately successful. It incorporated a local employment plan and funding to develop a social enterprise (Paintbox Bistro) and community space (Daniels Spectrum Centre).
The Previous Ontario government took note of the successes and gaining popularity of CBAs and subsequently passed Bill 6, which mandated some form of Community Benefits for all significant government of Ontario infrastructure projects. The Toronto Community Benefits Network(TCBN) was able to capitalize on this legislation in the construction of the Eglinton Crosstown LRT, the Finch-West LRT. Community Benefits Conversations were underway by the HCBN around Hamilton's Light Rail Project before the cancellation. The City of Toronto has added a social procurement bylaw and recently created a bylaw to incorporate CBAs into the City's future construction projects.