The legacy of public policy and economic development that separates communities of color from opportunity, while extracting wealth from these communities, is evident in the extreme inequality in wealth, income and opportunity that we see in Richmond, California, and beyond. Building a structure that reverses and repairs this legacy, and moves us toward an economy where everyone belongs is a north star for this project.
Development projects like new buildings and infrastructure consume billions of dollars of public and private funding each year, yet the benefits of these projects often pass by the communities that need them most. When communities organize, they can often negotiate a community benefits agreement with a developer, which secures a portion of the project profits for meeting community needs like job training and affordable housing. As important as this approach is, it is limited because it tacks on community benefits after a private developer has already decided what the development project will be.
A new model for equitable development is needed that has the community’s vision and values as the starting place for designing and implementing projects, and ensures that profits are reinvested in the community. Democratic governance and shared community wealth must be at the heart of this model. It could replace the role of private, corporate developers by having the technical capacity to plan and carry out projects according to community needs and visions. Our project is rooted in a vision to create such an entity that Richmond community leaders have developed over the last two years.
Over the last several years, many Richmond community leaders have coalesced around a vision for community-governed and community-owned development. Initially catalyzed by the campaign to ensure that UC Berkeley's planned Richmond campus reflects this vision, several partners continued to work in collaboration over the last year to design an organization that would be a vehicle for community-governed and owned development. The campus plans have gone dormant, but the vision, momentum, and need for a new structure for development remains.
The model we initially developed was articulated in our report, “Structuring Development for Greater Community Opportunity.” Central to the approach is the creation of a Community-owned Development Enterprise (CDE) that has a community benefits mission, majority community leaders on its board, and the technical, legal, and financial capacity to design and carry out development projects. Most existing non-profit developers work on affordable housing projects, whereas ours would carry out commercial, educational, and public facilities projects. There are a few examples of entities that share attributes of the Richmond model, such as East Baltimore Development, Inc., Push Buffalo, and the NYC Real Estate Investment Cooperative. Creating such entities provides a way for moving money out of the extractive economy and into enterprises rooted in community needs, ecology and economic justice.
During 2017, the Haas Institute supported a planning committee that is majority local residents and majority people of color in developing an initial design of the new enterprise. The institute provided case study research on related enterprises around the country, with analyses of their missions, development activities, and organizational structure. The planning committee finalized a mission statement, operational principles, organizational structure, and board recruitment plan. A broader set of 16 community-based organizations provided feedback on the mission, values, principles and structure through a community briefing and one-on-one meetings. The new organization is set to be incorporated and launch with a founding board that has deep community ties, is majority local people of color, and has the financial, legal, and technical expertise to design and implement development projects.
The Haas Institute is currently incubating and supporting this process, and will take guidance from, and ultimately turn the project over to, the founding board when it is established. The initiative is currently funded by the San Francisco Foundation and the Chorus Foundation.