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Major economic development projects and infrastructure investment can present both tremendous opportunities and significant threats for communities and residents. Using a community benefits approach, as a local government official you have powerful tools available to ensure that these projects provide the greatest social, economic and environmental benefits while also not harming surrounding neighborhoods. In short, community benefits are assets available through economic development that meet real community needs. Examples include community access to living wage jobs, affordable housing, health and community services and open space.
The City of Seattle supports construction jobs and meaningful employment for those in our community through programs that prepare and train workers for careers with family-sustaining wages. In early 2015, the Seattle City Council adopted a new City law, proposed by Mayor Ed Murray, to create construction career opportunities for those in our community.
Public construction projects are an expenditure of public tax dollars; as such, public agencies have an opportunity to develop policies for public construction projects to benefit taxpayers with employment and business opportunities. Targeted hire initiatives create institutional mechanisms to increase the participation of socially and economically disadvantaged workers and businesses in public construction projects based on work availability. Many public agencies have used targeted hire to leverage their investment in construction into good jobs for those who need an economic boost. For communities that experience historic disinvestment and chronic un- and underemployment, such work can create lasting stability for families and a pathway to revitalize the local economy.
An executive order outlining the process for considering environmental concerns and equitable development in public contracting.
Communities around the country are looking to promote healthier eating by encouraging urban agriculture. "Urban agriculture" is an umbrella term encompassing a wide range of activities involving the raising, cultivation, processing, marketing, and distribution of food in urban areas. In many communities, urban agriculture takes the form of backyard gardens and community gardens - places on public or private property where neighbors gather to cultivate vegetables and fruits, and even keep bees or raise poultry and small livestock. The food in community gardens is typically grown for the gardeners' own consumption or donation. Urban agriculture also encompasses urban farms (also called "market gardens" or "entrepreneurial agriculture") - enterprises, both for- and nonprofit, that grow produce on a larger or more intensive scale for sale.
In recent years, cities have become the drivers of government innovation. As urban growth has exploded over the past half century - increasing from a third to nearly 60 percent of world population today - local officials have been forced to solve problems and generate new ideas, policies, and approaches. From New York to Medellin to Copenhagen, mayors and city managers are finding novel ways to address some of the biggest challenges facing society, whether combating entrenched poverty, financing new infrastructure projects, or protecting the environment.
For millions of Americans, accessing healthy food is no easy matter. In low-income communities, liquor stores and gas stations proliferate, while farmers' markets are hard to find. Nationally, 11.5 million low-income people live in low-income areas where the nearest supermarket is more than one mile away. Although areas with limited access to affordable and nutritious food (known as food deserts) have great demand for healthy food, traditional financial institutions - like regional or national banks - often are reluctant to invest in food retail development projects in these areas. At the same time, development costs are often higher in underserved urban and rural communities. Bringing healthy food to food deserts requires tenacity, ingenuity, and a significant investment of capital. Financing healthy food retail development often means combining private dollars with grants and loans from government agencies. These public resources can reduce risks associated with private capital investment in low-income communities.
Over the past decade, the community benefits movement has emerged as a powerful mechanism for challenging the political and economic realities that undermine urban communities. Community benefits campaigns strive to build new political relationships among unlikely allies, uniting labor, community, environmental and faith-based groups behind broad-based agendas focused on economic development that prioritizes high-quality jobs, creates new career paths for low-income workers, marshals resources for environmental cleanup and sustainability, and avails residents of access to more affordable housing options. In many cities where community benefits coalitions work, research has shown that, too often, new development fails to generate high quality jobs and career paths for residents of the poorest parts of the city. Local hire requirements are a critical component of the community benefits agenda because they create concrete mechanisms for ensuring that investment of public funds in economic development will direct resources into low-income neighborhoods. The point is not only to hire local residents, but to use local hire requirements to target opportunities to low-income residents and people of color who might otherwise not benefit from new development. Local hiring programs are on the strongest legal footing, and are likely to produce the most meaningful outcomes, when they are rooted in efforts to reduce poverty rather than merely to hire city residents.