What is a Community Benefits Agreement?

April 8, 2019

By Tim Runge, Partner

The term Community Benefits Agreement has until recent years been a relatively unknown one, at least in Canada. The Canadian Community Economic Development Network (CCEDNet) defines Community Benefit Agreements (CBAs) as “deals between developers and coalitions of community organizations, addressing a broad range of community needs. They are safeguards to ensure that affected residents share in the benefits of major developments. They allow community groups to have a voice in shaping a project, to press for community benefits that are tailored to their particular needs, and to enforce developer’s promises. CBAs are only one aspect of a growing new movement towards community benefits in land-use planning, taking shape through labor-community partnerships around the country.”

https://ccednet-rcdec.ca/en/toolbox/community-benefits-agreements-making-development-projects

CBAs have been a feature on the landscape in US infrastructure and development projects for years. They tend to be associated with ensuring, as the definition above suggests –for example- that underrepresented populations within a community are included in hiring decisions around a project.  

The introduction to an April 21, 2016 paper produced by the Mowat Centre, funded by the Atkinson Foundation and written by Nevena Dragicevic and Sara Ditta titled Community Benefits and Social Procurement Policies: A Jurisdictional Review says that “in response to fiscal pressures and broader societal trends, many governments are seeking to unlock greater value from their infrastructure investments and procurement spending. Through community benefits and social procurement policies, which align spending and purchasing activities with broader public policy objectives, governments are changing the way they do business to reap greater social and economic benefits.”

“In Canada, the federal government, the province of Ontario, and the City of Toronto together spend upwards of $23.5 billion per year procuring goods and service, including construction. By embedding community and social benefits criteria into public contracts, governments can leverage this vast public spending to support important socio-economic goals, including poverty reduction, improved labour conditions, and greater equality of income.”

“Businesses, too, are demonstrating greater willingness to meet rising contractual obligations to secure valuable government contracts and sharpen competitive advantage. At the same time, a growing social economy sector and the explosion of social enterprises is creating a new landscape for socially-driven procurement. In many jurisdictions, this has led to a unique window of opportunity to pursue transformational community benefits and social procurement policies.” (https://mowatcentre.ca/community-benefits-and-social-procurement-policies/)”

But just how valuable are these well intentioned CBAs?