Community Benefits Can Help Us Keep Up With Our Changing City
From the Nest, Issue 8
by Karl Andrus
Neighbourhoods in the downtown core, and across our city, are changing. Once-affordable multi-bedroom apartment units are being replaced by one-bedroom condos. Changing demographics mean threats to an already-inadequate suite of public amenities, such as parks, recreation facilities, libraries and schools – things that benefit all of our communities.
Now that both the Federal and Provincial governments have affirmed their support for Hamilton’s Light Rail Transit (LRT) project, it’s important to discuss these community benefits and how community benefits agreements can help us to keep up with the coming changes.
A community benefits agreement (CBA) is a binding commitment on a public investment project to follow a fair, inclusive process that supports good jobs and provides real, tangible benefits to the community; things like promoting economic inclusion through apprenticeships and job opportunities for marginalized people, supporting social enterprises and local procurement, and building new infrastructure that improves neighbourhoods.
There has been a growing interest in community benefits in Ontario. Stemming from this, CBAs have become increasingly popular. They’re a strategic tool used when discussing the development of community wealth, specifically designed to mitigate the impacts of gentrification in a community. They typically outline specific programmatic and material commitments and are used to develop infrastructure projects through a transparent and inclusive process.
In the past, it was common practice for significant economic developments to be built without consulting the community that was directly impacted by their construction. Through a CBA, these projects can be developed while also giving a voice to community members, especially those who have traditionally been excluded or marginalized.
CBAs are formed between a number of parties, who differ based on the specific project. They are most commonly founded as a commitment between the government, the company contracted to develop land, and the community.
Neighbourhood-based groups and other organizations representing causes, such as affordable housing, labour rights, a living wage, and environmental sustainability, can form a coalition that advocates with community support to the contracting firm.
The power in a CBA comes from the community. The community coalition must continue to pressure actively for better gains through protest, education, and engagement. CBN members work actively with developers, city staff, and other levels of government to bring the voices of the coalition to the bargaining table and CBAs function best when an active and engaged group stands up and demands a voice on a project that might fundamentally change the neighbourhoods and cities they call home.
With the renewed commitment from the Provincial government and a contribution from the Federal Government, Hamilton’s $3.4 billion LRT system is back on track and will transform the city of Hamilton for a generation. What that transformation looks like will be shaped in large part by residents. Will it be an engine for better transportation, employment opportunities, and affordable housing? Or will it be an engine for gentrification and further displacement? A large part of how LRT will shape the city of Hamilton rests in community activism, engagement, and a binding Community Benefits Agreement.
Under the previous Ontario Government, Bill 6 was passed mandating some form of community benefits be included for all major government of Ontario infrastructure projects. Hamilton’s LRT falls under that legislation. Currently, the Federal government has mandated that undisclosed community benefits should also be a part of LRT.
Also all federal Infrastructure Canada Projects require Community Employment Benefits(CEB). Under the CEB initiative, the Government of Canada aims to complement efforts across Canada to increase the supply and retention of diverse workers in infrastructure-related industries like construction.
In Toronto, the Toronto Community Benefits Network (TCBN) had already made major strides in pushing for community benefits and was involved in several major projects, including the Eglinton Crosstown LRT and the Woodbine Casino.
When LRT funding was first announced, Hamilton needed a network of its own to bring our local community voices to the table. So, for almost four years, the Hamilton Community Benefits Network has built a broad citywide coalition of labour, community groups, hubs, social enterprises, residents, and marginalized groups together to help bring CBAs to Hamilton’s major government and private development projects.
HCBN is a collective made up of representatives from ACORN Hamilton, Hamilton Building Trades, the Immigrants Working Centre, the Hamilton and District Labour Council, the YWCA, Hamilton Food Share, Environment Hamilton, local neighbourhood associations, unions, and other organizations that envision an inclusive, thriving city in which all residents have equitable opportunities to contribute to building healthy communities and a prospering economy.
HCBN looks to leverage the massive investment of opportunities that LRT brings in order to make tangible change in our community. Affordable housing remains one of the key demands we have heard repeatedly from communities. This is especially relevant not only because of the current housing crisis but also given that Metrolinx has procured over 90 properties along the LRT corridor.
With the on-again off-again nature of Hamilton’s favourite political football, the LRT project, HCBN has been stuck waiting to get started until there was a firm commitment in place from all levels of government.
Now that the LRT project is once again moving full steam ahead, HCBN is looking forward to resuming broad community engagement to frame our asks of the Federal, Provincial, and local governments about just what a made-in-Hamilton Community Benefits Agreement should look like.
Karl Andrus is the Community Benefits Manager for the Hamilton Community Benefits Network; funding for the Hamilton Community Benefits Network is provided by the Atkinson Foundation and the Hamilton Community Foundation