February 20, 2023
Community Benefits Agreements emerge as top issue in Spring 2023 election cycle
A new group of more than 100 residents, developers, business owners, philanthropists, and local organizations have announced the Community Wealth Action Group to advocate for community-owned wealth, quality jobs, and livable wages for Black and Latinx residents of St. Louis and East St. Louis.
Last week, WEPOWER announced the Community Wealth Action Group (CWAG) alongside more than 100 coalition members. The Group is made up of organizations and individuals who share a common goal: to build communities where everyone can thrive.
Guided by input and action from community members in St. Louis and East St. Louis, the Group will work toward passing city ordinances that require a Community Benefits Agreement (CBA) for all large-scale, new development projects. CBAs are binding contracts between developers and community members that ensure projects include benefits that improve the lives of residents while giving developers the public support they need to bring their projects to life.
WEPOWER Founder and CEO Charli Cooksey explains the organization’s commitment to community wealth building: “At its core, community wealth building is about shifting our economy from one that pulls wealth away from communities and concentrates it in the hands of a small group of individuals, and is racially unjust, socially inequitable, and environmentally unsustainable to one that builds and keeps wealth in local communities of historically marginalized people, is racially just and socially equitable, and is environmentally sustainable. In this way, everyone wins—developers benefit from the community’s support, and residents take an active role in the vision and development of their communities and build a bridge to a future of collective wealth building.”
“As St. Louis blossoms, where do longtime residents fit in? The next phase of urban renewal should create a more inclusive community development ecosystem that centers our collective wealth and well-being. It’s time for a new approach—one that intentionally creates space for residents to lead the charge for progress in their own neighborhoods and holds developers accountable to a collective vision,” shares Coral Bello-Martinez, CWAG’s Economic Justice Organizer for St. Louis.
Economic development leader and WEPOWER board member Dr. Erica Henderson,CEcD believes CBAs can be effective vehicles for progress, saying, “The Community Wealth Action Group is a way to make sure residents not only have a seat at the table, but are the main leaders and visionaries of neighborhood change through accountability mechanisms like Community Benefits Agreements.”
Developers like Will Smith, President of New + Found—whose website reads “Acknowledging our past, building our future”—are embracing the opportunity to work closely with stakeholders to design inclusive communities. Smith shared, “As community development becomes more and more decentralized, developers have a responsibility to be good neighbors. That includes strategic and efficient collaboration with residents, property and small business owners, city government, and community organizers. There is an opportunity for us to work together to make development holistic and work for everyone.”
The Community Wealth Action Group will host a St. Louis City Aldermanic Candidate Forum on February 25 to provide an opportunity for residents to hear from Board of Aldermen candidates about their vision and plans concerning economic development in St. Louis City. Due to a scheduled reduction from 28 to 14 Wards, these elections are especially important--aldermanic power, geographic control, and salaries double after this election.
Coalition member Kevin McKinney is the Executive Director of the St. Louis Association for Community Organizations (SLACO) and a longtime advocate of CBAs. He stated, “This is one of the top issues of this election cycle. In 2017, the Board of Aldermen reached a stalemate when debating potential CBA approaches.. CBAs have gained traction across the U.S. since then; importantly, power has shifted in the City’s legislative body. Now is the time to pass a strong CBA ordinance that holds developers and other bodies accountable to the needs and wants of residents. It’s an inspiring time with more developers showing willingness to work collaboratively. I look forward to hearing candidates address this critical issue at the upcoming forum.”
In addition to SLACO, participating organizations include Missouri Coalition for the Environment, A Red Circle, St. Louis Mutual Aid, Green City Coalition, and more.
RSVP for the St. Louis City Aldermanic Candidate Forum at bit.ly/3IqoAq6. Childcare and lunch will be provided.