The fact that Detroiters organized themselves to gather signatures for a city­wide ballot initiative does not come as a surprise to me. Over the last four years, I have worked with block clubs, coalitions, small businesses, developers, trade unions and even past city administrations on an ordinance that is amenable to all who want to help Detroit thrive.
The community benefits ordinance I introduced two years ago is almost the same language as this petition.
The community benefits process is simply a method of ensuring that the host community has a seat at the table, in an authentic way that is not orchestrated by developers and others. It only applies to projects that are asking for a tax break from the city in the amount of $300,000 or more. The size of the project must be $15 million or more.
Many Detroiters from our seven districts have paid property taxes, water bills and other city fees for years. Since money is still required to run the city, it is only fair that if a project is getting a tax break or virtually free land, it should provide some benefit to those who are still paying to make up the difference. If Detroiters have to pay, then they should have a say.
When a project qualifies for a community benefits dialogue, there are a number of protections in place for the developer without taking away the opportunity for the residents to be true partners. The community benefits process also makes sure that small-business owners, many of whom have struggled through tough times to provide services for Detroiters, will have a fair chance to be part of the rising tide of new development.
Time and time again, we urge our neighborhoods in Detroit to do their part, to be engaged. The fact that Detroiters collected over 5,000 signatures to support this effort speaks volumes. This proposed ordinance, along with executive orders that direct local hiring and contracting goals, gives our neighbors a chance to partner with developers to bring true benefit to their neighborhoods.
We are watching changes happen in Detroit so quickly and we are confident that the growth will continue. The community benefits process does even more by expanding where engagement can thrive in areas outside of downtown and Midtown, areas where job growth, public health, affordable housing and education need to be improved. If a developer doesn’t ask for a handout, then it won’t apply. However, we need to raise our standards of what we deserve when we invest our land or tax dollars. We deserve better than trinkets that don’t hold up after the development is complete.
Brenda Jones
President, Detroit City Council