Archive for the ‘Community Benefits Agreements’ Category

Accountable Development Victory in New Jersey: Major Project to Include Housing and Job Quality Standards

August 5, 2008

The redevelopment of the Military Ocean Terminal in Bayonne will now promote good jobs and affordable housing in northern New Jersey. Much of the credit for this goes to the Garden State Alliance for a New Economy (GANE), which persuaded local officials to include job quality and housing affordability language in a Request for Proposals (RFP)to redevelop the decommissioned army facility.

The $10 billion 16 million-square-foot mixed-use redevelopment project—which is expected to create some 3,000 waterfront residential units, up to 1,000 hotel rooms and commercial and light industrial space—is eagerly anticipated in the community. Kate Atkins, executive director of GANE—a recently formed affiliate of the Partnership for Working Families —said involvement in the project was too important to pass up: “It will have a major impact on the region’s economy for many years to come.”

Representing a coalition of five unions and four community groups, GANE testified at local redevelopment authority meetings and held meetings with Mayor Terrence Malloy and other local officials. According to Atkins, “The coalition has been united on making sure that throughout the project the larger public benefit is really kept in mind–for example, making sure that construction jobs are good union jobs, and the permanent jobs are also high quality jobs.”

GANE’s goals are not only to educate public officials about their capacity to set high standards for developers, but also to send the message that it is possible to promote economic development that is financially beneficial to the community both in the short-term and in the long-term.

While GANE is pleased with its impact on the RFP, its job is not done. The group will monitor the process of selecting the developer to make sure that the project continues to promote equitable economic development.

Denver Adopts Job Quality Standards for TIF!

July 31, 2008
Members of the Prevailing Wage Committee

Members of the Prevailing Wage Committee

The Denver Urban Renewal Authority (DURA) took a big step forward this month in helping to ensure that TIF-funded projects are built by construction workers employed in high quality jobs. The adoption of two policies linking job quality standards to subsidized development projects represents a key economic development reform for Denver. The credit for this shift goes to the Prevailing Wage Committee, a grassroots organization composed of representatives of the building trades, and FRESC (formerly known as the Front Range Economic Strategy Center) who have been working toward this achievement for more than a year.

For over 50 years, Denver has had a law requiring the payment of prevailing wages for construction and other site maintenance work performed by private contractors and subcontractors on projects that are publicly owned or “financed in whole or part” by the city. This law wasn’t applied consistently, however, and the city spent nearly a half of a billion dollars on TIF projects over the last decade, many of which didn’t require the payment of family-supporting wages.

DURA’s new rule applies Denver’s Prevailing Wage Policy to trunk infrastructure construction on TIF-funded development. Trunk infrastructure includes any work done on roads, public utilities, parks, police stations, libraries and more. The policy includes provisions for regular and overtime pay, fringe benefits and timely payment of employees. DURA further adopted the Enhanced Training Opportunity Policy, which requires all projects to dedicate one percent of their TIF allocation towards workforce training of existing and potential workers as well as small or disadvantaged construction business owners.

Though there are numerous types of development subsidies to which reforms such as job quality standards may be attached, there are not many specific to TIF projects. Denver joins Maine; West Virginia; Davenport and Des Moines, Iowa; Hartford, Connecticut; Missoula, Montana; and Los Angeles as jurisdictions that mandate such standards.

As one of the largest purchasers of construction services, government has significant power to bolster wages in the industry. The move by DURA toward guaranteeing good jobs in TIF projects represents a solid investment in stronger communities and more accountable development.

The Man Without a Plan, Uncle Sam

May 22, 2008

The man without a plan? That would be Uncle Sam!

 

It has been 20 years since cities started adopting clawbacks, often in the wake of plant closings, and they are everywhere today.

 

It has been 14 years since the living wage movement took off and today Job Quality Standards are found in most states’ development code and many cities’ and counties= contracts.

 

It has been 13 years since Minnesota enacted what was then a terrific disclosure law and half the states now disclose to varying degrees.

 

It has been 10 years since the Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy won its first Community Benefits Agreements, that model has spread across the nation.

 

We are way past any dogma that these reforms are going to somehow “poison the business climate.”

 

Yet look at the pathetic state of the federal government=s main economic development agencies and programs:

HUD is in shambles, not just because of Secretary Jackson’s departure under an ethics cloud, but because its funding has been repeatedly cut and its staff demoralized so that it has grown irrelevant on the big issues of the day.

 

Did HUD avert the subprime scandal? Is HUD weatherizing millions of homes to curb global warming and help people deal with soaring energy prices?

 

Community Development Block Grants C HUD’s biggest urban aid program C lack basic safeguards, and they don’t require Community Benefits.

 

It is because of cutbacks in programs like Block Grants that city officials claim they must mortgage our future C that they must create TIF districts that impoverish our tax base and our schools for 15, 23, even 35 years.

 

The Department of Labor’s Workforce Investment Act also spreads money everywhere, but it lacks a firm Job Quality Standards requirement (although some local WIBs have attached them).

 

The same structural accountability problems exist with major Department of Commerce programs.

 

And as one newspaper exposé revealed, even the Agriculture Department spends billions for economic development, much of it fueling sprawl or favoring big businesses over small ones or subsidizing projects in wealthy areas that don=t need help.

 

There is one tiny office of the Environmental Protection Agency doing some terrific work on smart growth, but it is just one tiny office.

 

It is a big issue that Uncle Sam Has No Plan. According to estimates made in the mid-1990s, the federal government spends two and a half times more on “corporate welfare” than do all 50 states combined — about $125 billion per year C versus $50 billion for all the states.

 

As in the states, most of those federal dollars are uncollected taxes: tax credits, tax exemptions, bonus depreciation, and so forth. But we still don’t have specific details about who got what.

In my next blog: how Uncle Sam’s incomplete disclosure systems reveals only the tip of the iceberg.

 

 

 

 

Postcard from the Good Jobs First conference

May 7, 2008

If you are a researcher or campaigner concerned about economic development accountability, the place to be this week is the national conference of Good Jobs First outside Baltimore. Gathered here are activists who are seeking to remake the relationship between the public and the private sectors.

Some of the most impressive presentations came this morning in a plenary session put together by the Partnership for Working Families (PWF). Madeline Janis, head of the Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy, and Phaedra Ellis-Lamkins, who runs the South Bay AFL-CIO and Working Partnerships USA, described remarkable changes that have taken place in parts of California. Union-sponsored non-profit organizations, working with community allies, are turning the tables on developers who used to have the red carpet rolled out for them. Now the right to build large subsidized projects is being made contingent on providing benefits to the community ranging from apprenticeship programs and living-wage jobs to affordable housing, more green space and air pollution abatement. Janis and Ellis-Lamkins seemed to be describing a parallel universe in which the common good takes precedence over monied interests.

Their themes were echoed later in a presentation by Cecilia Estolano, chief executive of the Los Angeles Community Redevelopment Agency, a remarkable public official who is converting the agency from what she said was a “cookie jar” for developers into a promoter of projects that bring about broad improvements in living standards.

The good news comes not only from California. For example, Deborah Scott of Georgia Stand Up recounted how her group cajoled local officials in Atlanta to provide for community participation in major development projects taking place adjacent to an old rail line ringing the city.

I was unable to attend the PWF workshops (one of five tracks) because I was giving presentations of my own — in my capacity as research director of Good Jobs First — in workshops on advanced research techniques relating to subsidies and corporate taxes. Joining me in the latter were Matt Gardner of the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy, who told us how to unearth the real tax rates of major corporations (which are often well below what the company claims), and Michael Mazerov of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, who described his proposal to compel corporations to disclose abbreviated versions of their state tax returns.

This is only a sample of the provocative ideas swirling around this conference. Wish you could be here.

(This item is being crossposted on Dirt Diggers Digest.)