Update

Community Benefit Agreements: the Vancouver Policy

Apr 6th, 2020

When we walk through our neighbourhoods how many different types of buildings do we see? Houses, Shops, Restaurants, Schools, Hospitals? All of these buildings are more than just physical infrastructure; they employ people, and they produce, use and consume goods and services every day. Buildings are more than a physical structure in the environment, they are critical to our community’s social, cultural and economic well-being.

Community Benefit Agreements (CBAs) are agreements which seek to achieve community benefits from infrastructure and development projects. They are collaboratively designed and implemented between communities, the construction industry and government. The benefits sought after generally fall into the categories of employment, skills and training, adding a social value into the supply chain and community development opportunities, such as supporting local arts and culture.

Through Social Procurement policies and Community Benefits many governments and other organizations across the world are aligning purchases and investments with their strategic objectives and goals while seeking social value outcomes from their procurement of goods and services and infrastructure investments.[1]

In Vancouver it seems we are a city of constant new building development. Buildings that require materials and labour during construction and will go on to provide opportunities for employment and procurement of goods and services in a variety of forms.

Many of us have experienced the positive and negative effects of gentrification of communities that these developments can produce. So, a question is raised – Can we capture the many forms of community capital that these developments will produce, and support the health and resilience of the community rather than displacing it?

Healthy communities are based upon 5 key tenets of capital. How can the things we buy and build contribute to healthy communities? 

In this context, it was critical thatthe City of Vancouver pass their Community Benefit Agreement (CBA) Policy in October 2018. Buy Social Canada, along with Exchange Inner City are supporting the City of Vancouver in the implementation of their CBA policy.

The City of Vancouver’s CBA Policy mandates that developers of future large-scale sites (exceeding 45,000 m2) will commit to actions, targets, or outcomes in the following areas:

1.      Local targeted employment – making 10% of new entry level jobs available to people in Vancouver first, specifically those who are equity-seeking(referred to in the policy first source hiring)

2.      Social Procurement – a minimum of 10% of goods and services valuing the positive social and environmental impacts created by purchasing select goods and services, in addition to value for money

o   Local Procurement – local businesses and social enterprises

o   Supplier diversity – purchasing from organizations that are at least 51% owned by women, members of an Indigenous community, members of a visible minority group, members of the LGBTQ2S+ community, someone with a recognizable disability, or by an immigrant or refugee[2]

When the CBA policy is triggered by a development over 45,000 m2, the project applicant must agree to complete a CBA in order to be approved for re-zoning. The build and operations permits are also tied to the best-efforts of applicants to achieve the goals of the CBA. By incorporating the build and operations permits, Vancouver community benefits can be cultivated across to the entire lifespan of the building; from design, to build, to operation.

To see the scale of opportunity this offers we need only to look at the first development project that the City of Vancouver’s CBA policy applies to: St Paul’s Hospital development. The build phase of this large project will span across multiple years offering time for social enterprises, local businesses and training providers to build capacity to respond to future demands. An individual could start the process as an apprentice on the building site and leave the project as a red-seal qualified carpenter.

Social enterprises such as EMBERS, who provides day-labour services to construction sites across the Lower Mainland, will be able to tap into a multi-year source of revenue and help transition individuals re-entering the workforce (often with prior skills and qualifications) back into skilled construction positions. Catering social enterprises like H.A.V.E and Potluck will have increased demand from site meetings and as the project develops opportunities for maintenance, groundskeeping and cleaning will all be able to be met, at least somewhere in the supply chain, by local social enterprises.[3]

St Paul’s hospital’s pre-build development process allows for extensive community engagement and co-creation lead by Exchange Inner City. The scale and time-space of the build and operations phases offer huge opportunities for employment, skills and training and social value in supply chains.

The operations of a hospital, which will continue for decades, offers years for training and employment providers to develop appropriate programs for positions in a hospital as well as opportunities such as a café, gift or flower shop that all hospitals include permanent spaces for.

In order for a CBA to be truly successful, it is crucial that the voices of the community are heard, their visions for their communities shared with developers and the government, and that these visions are co-created and implemented to work towards achieving the community economic development goals so that Community Benefit Agreements will contribute to the community capital of the area. This includes building capacity of local suppliers (including social enterprises, locally owned businesses and training providers) to respond to the influx of demand that these development projects bring. Buy Social Canada and Exchange Inner City are excited to work within our communities and engage with developers, the City of Vancouver, and community stakeholders through the creation of resources and the facilitation of an Advisory Working Group and project-specific sub-committees to ensure the success of all development projects that trigger Vancouver’s CBA policy.

We are living through an unprecedented period of uncertainty, but what we do know, is that in the coming months and years we will need to rebuild many of our communities, both figuratively and literally. We will need to find ways to support local social enterprises and businesses and transition individuals who have lost employment into skill-building programs and employment. Community Benefit Agreements give us the opportunity to develop the physical capital in our communities, build resilience, and create and sustain employment and supply chain opportunities. CBAs allow us to shift the development of a building from a transaction between parties to a transformation of the communities we live in. [3]

There will be a panel on Community Benefit Agreements at the Buy Social Canada Digital Symposium on April 22. Register now and join in the conversation.


[1]For examples in Canada see Infrastructure Canada “Community Employment Benefits”, the City of Vancouver Community Benefit Agreement policy and the University of York’s social procurement policy

[2] https://vancouver.ca/people-programs/community-benefit-agreements.aspx

[3] For examples of local social enterprises see Directory of certified social enterprises

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