Community Benefits Agreements

A Community Benefit Agreement (CBA) is a legally binding contract negotiated between a developer and a coalition representing broad spectrum of community members impacted by the development. In exchange for community members' support for the project, the developer agrees to provide certain benefits. Existing CBAs include provisions such as funds for affordable housing and open space, card check neutrality for workers who choose to organize unions, and living wage goals for workers employed at the development.

Efforts in New York to replicate meaningful CBAs have been disappointing.  Brooklyn Atlantic Yards, Columbia University's expansion, Yankee Stadium attempted to implement CBAs but fell short of those modeled after the landmark agreements in California. In order to be meaningful, a CBA must incorporate concerns from a wide variety of stakeholders that come together as one coalition, and must lead to contributions from the developer and support for the project from coalition members that would not have emerged in the absence of CBA negotiations.

Who participates in a CBA?

Developers - to get a project through its approval process as quickly and smoothly as possible, with the public support of local stakeholders and elected officials.

Residents - to have a say in shaping the development projects in your neighborhood, to minimize the disruption they may cause, and to ensure that they contribute to the local quality of life.

Job seekers - to improve access to jobs for unemployed and under-employed people in the impacted area, and to support the inclusion of job quality standards, for example living wages, health benefits, and paid vacation.

Business owners - to give input on how best to increase local foot traffic and minimize disruptions while making sure that new-comers are not given an unfair competitive advantage over existing businesses through public subsidies that come without any strings attached.

Unions - to expand opportunities for existing members and ensure that unorganized workers can exercise their right to join a union.

City officials - to facilitate the completion of worthy projects, help craft economic development outcomes that balance the needs of city residents, businesses, and tax-payers, and encourage the types of businesses that invest - and remain - in the neighborhoods in which they locate.

Why would a developer sign a CBA?

Developers sign CBAs in exchange for the public support of community groups for their project.  Community support can be valuable to the developer, especially in terms of getting through the approval process at government oversight boards (for example, zoning, land use, agencies that handle tax breaks, etc.).  The developer has an incentive to avoid community opposition to the project, which could result in costly delays or even cancellation.

What does it take to get a good CBA signed? 

Strong organizing in a broad coalition is essential.  In order to make a developer sign a deal, the community must be able to pose a “credible threat” that their opposition to the project will create a big problem for the developer. At the same time, being able to foster good communication and good faith with both the developer and local government officials will help pave the way to a successful negotiation.

Is a CBA a good idea for every development project?

CBAs have advantages and disadvantages. They can achieve concrete gains for the community, and they can be great coalition-building tools. On the other hand, if the community lacks the organizing power to get a good agreement, signing a weak CBA might leave the community in a weaker bargaining position for the next project. It is up to the community groups to decide if a CBA is in their best interests for any particular project.

For more information, see:

In the fall of 2010, the New York City Comptroller's office released a report after conveneing a task force of various groups regarding the development and implementation of Community Benefit Agreements in the city. The Task Force's recommendations and background materials are available here: Recommendations of the Task Force on Public Benefit Agreements,

Community Benefits Agreements: Making Development Projects Accountable, from the California Partnership for Working Families with Good Jobs First and the Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy.

Partnership for Working Families has examples of CBAs currently in effect around the country.

Community Benefits Agreements, an independent blog on CBAs

For more information on CBAs, visit the Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy (LAANE) website on accountable development includes information on how Los Angeles made the most of a stadium complex in the landmark STAPLES agreement.