Community Benefits 101

On June 29th Parkdale Community Economic Development held their second panel discussion entitled On Community Benefits: Community Benefits 101. This discussion was moderated by Jenn Miller (Aktinson Foundation) and featured Rosemarie Powell (Toronto Community Benefit Network), Mariam Paul (East Scarborough Storefront) and Alejandra Bravo (Broadbent Institute). Drawing from their own perspectives and experiences, the panelists offered in-depth analyses of how Community Benefits Agreements are an effective collective tool that leverages equitable development without displacement.

Community Benefits Agreements are legally binding contracts that are negotiated between a grassroots coalition and a developer to ensure that new developments benefit the local community. These community benefits include, but are not limited to: local jobs, living wage requirements, affordable housing, and neighbourhood improvements. Community Benefits Agreements are being welcomed by local governments because they encourage social returns on investment from infrastructure growth. The passing of Bill 6 is evidence that the Ontario government recognizes the value of community benefits. More importantly for local communities, growth that occurs from intensification and redevelopment can be leveraged in a way that provides a myriad of social and economic opportunities the community.

The panelists highlighted the importance of building relationships within the neighborhood that develop a community coalition; building an optimistic, celebratory culture; and the risks of institutionalized, power imposed, top-down governance. It was argued the political nature of community benefits agreements should be a “bottom-up” process with a focus on everyday struggles, access to resources and “who get’s what.”

A campaign rather than an institution, community benefits should set clear demands for developers so that their project can generate shared wealth in the local economy. In addition, Community Benefits Agreements are key to communicating and sparking dialogue with communities who are traditionally excluded from community consultation processes. These conversations are in itself is a “win”, allowing institutions and powerful actors in urban politics to empathize with community anxieties and listen to their struggles. Community Benefits Agreements are not the “end-all-be-all” for a community mobilization but rather establish a “floor” of expectations for new development and create space for grassroots conversations to emerge.

Filmed by Philip Lortie.

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