Event Recap: Immigration & Development Patterns
This event explored how immigrant communities are reshaping and stabilizing neighborhoods across the city.
Navigating the Community Benefit Agreement (CBA) Process panel brought together three different perspectives in negotiating CBAs. The panel was moderated by Dr. Akira Drake-Rodriguez, Assistant Professor, University of Pennsylvania School of Design. Panelists included Jamie Gauthier, Councilmember, 3rd District; David Ross, Partner, Argo Property Group; and, Nolan Tully, Chair, South of South Neighborhood Association.
CBAs are legally binding contracts created between a community and a developer. Items negotiated into the contract can pertain to affordable housing, green space provisions, infrastructure, prioritization of local hiring, and other unique needs of a specific neighborhood. While there is no overall City of Philadelphia stance on CBA’s as they tend to be neighborhood specific, the City views them as opportunities to create good relationships between communities and developers, benefitting long standing residents. Councilwoman Gauthier acknowledged that our Registered Community Organizations (RCOs) are important in ensuring that residents have a say in development and CBA’s can provide a means for them to dictate the benefits from the development in their neighborhoods.
As a developer, Ross saw CBA’s as a tool to formalize promises that are made to communities during the development process. They keep developers accountable but also provide a framework with which to set goals and ensure the success of a project. However, a potential flaw in this system is the risk of lawsuits which could result from legally binding CBA’s. RCO’s don’t have the resources or capacity to handle lawsuits which could easily dissolve RCO’s – along with the voice of a communities. Tully urged the City to consider a liability shield for RCO’s to ensure fair development in our neighborhoods. He also encouraged RCO’s to engage with developers in healthy negotiations. Developers who are looking for zoning relief are typically willing to provide community benefits in order to expedite projects and ensure a smoother process with the community’s support.
Gentrification and displacement is a real concern for the City. Councilwoman Gauthier encouraged RCO’s to voice the need for affordable housing when negotiating CBA’s but there are many challenges in actually producing affordable units. According to Ross, the current market economy favors townhouse development and the idea of apartments, which are more accommodating of affordable units, is often not well received in RCO’s composed of mostly homeowners. Tenants and renters are not there to speak for themselves and advocate for rental units which makes it difficult for developers to provide them. Learning from development in Graduate Hospital – an area that gentrified very rapidly, Tully highlighted the importance of engaging with the community and doing the legwork to clearly communicate goals of a development and how it will impact residents. One of the most successful negotiation points he has witnessed is connecting RCO’s to commercial tenants for jobs in commercial spaces.
Gauthier believes it’s the City’s responsibility to dictate the requirements for affordable housing so that the CBA process is streamlined, and conflict is reduced between neighborhood groups and developers. A mandatory inclusion in zoning that sets levels of affordability may be a potential solution. Ross commented that a public policy would add some transparency to the development process by setting the demands up front so that developers know what they are getting into. CBA’s take a lot of effort and there are many unknowns at the onset which make it hard to calculate costs. Public policy streamlining the affordable housing conversations could save a lot of stress and most developers would stand behind that.
The second half of the program consisted of two case studies presenting alternative or additional forms of community engagement. Tyrone Rachal (Chairman of Board, Decide DeKalb Development Authority) spoke about Atlanta’s Development authority, “Invest Atlanta,” which is a mechanism for negotiating public-private partnerships. Traditional P3 models are evolving, especially when resources are constrained. Stakeholders in development are more than just the private and public sector – especially in more distressed areas that don’t normally attract traditional forms of capital. Unique partnerships with non-profits and philanthropists help create incentives, which are needed to spur development in those areas. People must also be accounted for as stakeholders and be encouraged to get involved in the process of planning for development in their neighborhoods.
There has been a shift of focus from transactional, one-off, agreements to a holistic perspective of community engagement which sets guidelines for future projects. Projects like the Atlanta BeltLine presented a learning opportunity that once a valuable asset is introduced, developers will want to build around it. The focus then shifts from initial creation of value to the importance of transfer and distribution that comes after it. If community voices and input are gathered from the onset and incorporated into a larger framework, it can then be used as a guiding element of community benefits for all future projects. More collaborative input mechanisms are key for more equitable impacts which have been a top priority for Atlanta.
Maria Sourbeer from Shift Capital spoke to the importance of diversifying assets in neighborhoods that build stronger communities. J-Centrel was a successful community-focused project that did not involve a CBA but different forms of community engagement. Their strategies involved engaging local civic associations, business associations, meetings with RCO’s, and getting creative about parking. Because the goals of Shift and the community were so aligned, they didn’t need a CBA as a formal agreement, having already developed trust and commitment to the neighborhood. One example of this was their “Good Neighbor Program” in which building tenants are incentivized to engage with the neighborhood and receive a rent discount for spending time on neighborhood cleanups, attending civic association meetings, and other digital and in-person neighborhood activities.
When asked to provide advice for the challenges they faced, Tyrone encouraged development frameworks instead of one-off projects to create stable foundations for smaller work down the road. Maria highlighted the importance of long-term community presence and relationships, particularly with by-right projects. When the larger goals have already been established and agreed upon, it makes the community more comfortable with the development at-hand. Educating the community on the many roles of a developer has also been an important factor in helping the community understand the flexibility points but also factors that present too much risk. When faced with distressed communities which present particular challenges and needs, Tyrone encouraged a focus on small businesses which help lift neighborhoods organically. Instead of single CBAs, big moves and ideas are key in making long-term, sustainable impact.
Contributed by Ramune Bartuskaite – Ramune is a Project Coordinator at JKRP Architects, a 2018 ULI Philadelphia Etkin Johnson Scholar, and member of the Women’s Leadership Initiative.