by Ce-Ce Gerlach
The soul and very foundation of municipalities is not the buildings — it’s the people. Development should benefit everyone, not just a handful of the well connected and wealthy developers. It’s time that we shift away from development that is only good for some folks, and instead initiate development that is great for all. Inclusive and Equitable development builds on the assets of a community and empowers residents. There are several tools that municipalities can utilize to ensure that all benefit from development.
Inclusionary Zoning (IZ) or Housing creates mixed income and integrated communities. Inclusionary Zoning requires that a percentage of housing units in a new development are made available to low and moderate income households. Developers then receive non-monetary compensation such as expedited permits or density bonuses. When part of a comprehensive approach, IZ prevents gentrification.
Gentrification occurs when a working or lower income neighborhood is transformed into a community for higher income individuals, which causes the housing and real estate prices to rise and the overall character of a neighborhood to change. In the name of “progress,” hardworking, life-long residents and businesses find themselves unable to afford to stay in their own community. Master plans typically do not include the current working class residents or businesses, but instead are designed to attract a different, more affluent demographic of people into the neighborhood.
Development doesn’t have to displace, destroy, or divide. City governments can adopt public policies that foster inclusive development. In addition to Inclusionary Housing policies, municipalities should explore offering incentives to developers who attract employers that pay a living wage.
Developers always promise to create hundreds and thousands of jobs for “people in the community,” but it’s important to examine what that really means. For example, the PPL Center in Allentown promised to “lift all boats” through providing employment to Allentown residents, but the vast majority of people working at the construction site were not members of the Allentown community. Most of the jobs have been low-wage, part-time, or on-call positions. Bringing hundreds of poverty wage jobs into an impoverished neighborhood does nothing more than allow current residents to remain economically stagnant.
Cities and towns need to put policies into place that will make local employment a priority. Targeted and First Source referral systems provide current residents of a municipality or a neighborhood with the first opportunity to apply to jobs within a development project. One of the best ways to manage this effort and streamline the process is to have an employment center on site where the jobs are being created, thereby creating a pipeline from residents to employers.
In order for development to be inclusive and equitable, everyone must have access to information and be part of the process before the decisions are being made. Far too often, members of the public are brought in to provide input or place a sticker on a chart indicating their approval of a plan that has already been approved behind the scenes. Instituting a Community Impact Report (CIR) ordinance or policy changes how and who makes decisions from the beginning. Typically, when development projects are introduced to the public, only the positive attributes of the project are presented. I have attended numerous ANIZDA board meetings, city council meetings, and public information sessions where the public is given platitudes about how wonderful the development will be for everyone, but rarely if ever are the costs of the development ever put on the table. Costs and benefits are interconnected; one should not be discussed without the other, yet this is usually what happens.
Community Impact Reports create an evaluative process and an information gathering mechanism. Developers assemble a detailed report which assesses the fiscal, employment, housing, and needs/services impact on the community surrounding the development. Within the framework of a CIR, a developer would describe if and how taxes in the community would increase, decrease, or shift. This report also includes the number of jobs being eliminated and created, as well as job quality measures. In terms of housing, a CIR describes the impact of a development project as it relates to affordable and market rate housing. If any housing units will be created or eliminated, this must be detailed within the CIR. Finally a Community Impact Report determines how well a development project will meet the needs of a community, such as providing a grocery store or pharmacy. If development eliminates community assets, such as childcare, this must also be stated on a CIR.
It’s time that municipalities stop worrying about their skyline and start focusing on their people. This requires bold leadership and, sometimes, uncomfortable conversations. Buildings come and go, but people are what make our towns and cities thrive. Development that invests in people, the human capacity to learn and grow, produces long-term sustainable communities.
by Ce-Ce Gerlach
Ce-Ce is Vice President of the Allentown School Board
(Essays express the ideas of the individual authors and do not necessarily represent the views of the Alliance.)