Community Benefits Agreements: A tool for economic equity

Deirdre O’Leary, Staff Writer

ST. PETERSBURG — Che Smith of Raise The Bar St. Petersburg was the featured guest speaker at last month’s Interfaith Tampa Bay virtual meeting held Sept. 17. She introduced the group to Community Benefits Agreements (CBAs), which give community groups a seat at the table for large development projects.

CBAs can include specific “asks” of the developer, such as building new childcare facilities or having an apprenticeship program for construction workers. Raise the Bar St. Petersburg, along with One Community, is working on a city ordinance that would be continuous rather than dealing with each project as it arises.

According to Raise The Bar St Petersburg’s co-chair Bruce Nissen, the group is “on the verge of having an ordinance that requires CBAs be built into the development policy in St Petersburg.”

Nissen claims that if they are successful, St. Petersburg would be a leader in the U.S. by having a CBA ordinance rather than piecemeal project agreements.

Smith referred to the ALICE report by the United Way to demonstrate the need for equity. ALICE stands for Asset Limited Income Constrained Employed; in other words, the working poor.  Looking at the 2019 ALICE report for Pinellas County, the ALICE survival budget for two adults with an infant and a pre-K child is calculated to be $59,928 and $21,504 for a single person.

Pinellas’s median household income is $50,036, leaving many families with a $9,000 annual shortfall.  The report states while 42 percent of Pinellas County households are below the ALICE thresholds, Black households make up 57 percent of that number.

Raising incomes by creating better-paying jobs while cutting expenses by providing free or low-cost childcare can help bridge the gap. Projects in or near traditionally Black neighborhoods, or those on city-owned land, provide a real opportunity to funnel necessary dollars back to the community. The Tropicana Field redevelopment project and the 22nd Street redevelopment effort are both great opportunities for CBAs to be negotiated.

CBAs are not new.  According to the Partnership for Working Families, cities around the country have used them successfully for several years. The Partnership created a Community Benefits Law Center to work with cities and developers in the specifics of zoning and other legal requirements, keeping the projects together.

In the South, the city of Nashville created a CBA in connection with a new soccer stadium in 2018. Although Nashville has a larger overall population of 692,587 versus 271,842 for St. Petersburg, the percentage of African-American residents is 27.9 percent, roughly comparable to 23.9 percent in St Pete.

The CBA for the stadium required 20 percent of all housing to be affordable and also stipulated a commitment to three-bedroom housing units for families. It provided a $15.50 minimum wage for stadium workers after completing the project and a hiring program for residents.  The CBA also included on-site childcare and micro-unit retail spaces for small artists and other businesses.

The Community Benefits Law Center produced a 19-page legal guide for elected officials, available at

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