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Community Benefits Agreements and You

Buffalo’s emerging medical corridor has as a purpose the transformation of the Fruit Belt community and adjacent housing developments McCarley Gardens and Pilgrim Village. Considerable public dollars that you and I have contributed through our income, payroll, sales, and property taxes, lottery ticket purchases, and bets placed at OTB, are funding this construction that benefits whom? Developers who live in Clarence? UB faculty and staff who live in Amherst? How does this disruption and change of building the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus assist those who live in the Fruit Belt and other east side communities? This is where a Community Benefits Agreement comes into play. A Community Benefits Agreement (CBA) is an inclusive, negotiated, legally enforceable understanding that holds developers accountable to the communities it is disrupting. Its “undeniable premise: if taxpayer money subsidizes development, all communities should see clear benefits” (from Partnership for Working Families).

A successful and legitimate CBA truly involves the entire affected community. Negotiation between an appointed few who are in the pocket of the power elites does not constitute community engagement in a legitimate Community Benefits Agreement. To have a legitimate CBA means that the community must make itself heard. That means you must come out and be vocal. This is not the time to be cynical and to feel that your opinion does not matter. This is not the time to believe that UB and Ciminelli Construction are too big, too powerful, too untouchable to question and to engage in a conversation that creates optimal outcomes for those of us who live in the Fruit Belt. We live here and we know what we want and what we need. And a CBA will help assure that we the residents benefit from optimal outcomes on our terms and not just those of power elites who know us not and care nothing of us. Know this: there are no done deals until the community agrees.

Think of the story of David and Goliath: David the shepherd defeated the giant because he, David, was prepared—he was armed with five stones he knew how to wield, he was not distracted by the insults and blustering of the giant Goliath, and he had right on his side. Let’s emulate David. Come and learn about Community Benefits Agreements on Monday, June 30, 2014, 6-8 p.m., Moot Senior Center, 292 High Street.

> Veronica Nichols, Buffalo

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