Council at odds over community benefits agreement
Contributed by The 411 News
Gary’s Community Benefits Agreement will remain law if the City Council and the mayor’s office can’t work out differences over amendments to the agreement proposed by the Prince Administration at Tuesday night’s (August 4) City Council Planning Committee meeting.
The meeting was held via a Zoom virtual conference.
Councilman Clorius Lay said he was a co-sponsor of C.P.O. 2020-39, the administration’s amendment to the CBA. “I don’t want the City Council to make the mistake of giving money to a one-person corporation. Why would we allow a private organization to control money?”
Both sides are looking to reconcile differences to help keep the construction of Broadway Lofts, a downtown housing complex, on track.
As approved by the City Council in December 2019, the Community Benefits Agreement would apply to developers who receive a city-issued benefit, like a tax abatement, property, or guaranteed loan to help complete the project.
In June, Broadway Lofts’ developer MVAH Partners asked the city of Gary for a 10-year tax abatement on the site of the new housing in the 700 blocks of Broadway and Massachusetts. Instead of paying $911,000 in taxes over the 10 years, the tax bill for MVAH will be about $242,000, a $669,000 savings.
The Community Benefits Agreement places a demand on the developer to give something in return that would benefit the community. It asks the developer to reinvest 15% of the tax savings in a community benefit that would support schools, parks, health care, affordable/mixed income housing, African American/minority/female-owned businesses, access to supplier contracts, or environmental protection from industrial projects.
The CBA requires the hiring of Gary residents on construction projects and has a focus on training Gary residents to work on construction projects.
Gary’s CBA law, Ordinance 93-05, was created from language written by the Coalition for a Gary Community Benefits Agreement. Carolyn McCrady heads the organization of Gary residents that wants to give citizens a seat at the table during negotiations when a developer seeks a city-issued benefit. The CGCBA would direct those monies to the impact area where the development would take place. Broadway Lofts is in the city’s 2nd District.
The administration’s amendment replaces the CGCBA with the Commission on Community Benefits Agreement, an 11-member panel. The City Council would appoint eight members, and the mayor’s office would appoint three. “If the people currently on the committee [CGCBA] want to be a part of this,” Lay said, “even Ms. McCrady, they should apply and submit resumes to the City Council’s Boards and Commissions Committee.”
The amendment requires the city-issued benefit have a value of at least $1,000,000 to invoke the CBA. If adopted, the CBA won’t apply to Broadway Lofts and the developer won’t have to hand over 15% of its tax savings. The amendment directs reinvestment funds received from a developer be deposited in the city’s General Fund or Economic Development Corporation Fund.
Councilman Lay also argued that the private corporation would be handling taxpayer dollars “without transparency.”
Some CGCBA members were on the conference meeting, pointing to Councilman Lay’s amendment as part of a power grab. Vanessa Allen-McCloud, Urban League of Northwest Indiana CEO, asked the Council to include citizens at the table. “We are only here to work collaboratively with the city. I’m disappointed at the direction this has taken. I see Mr. Lay has taken control in this situation.”
“This is not an amendment; this is an erasure,” said Ruth Needleman, Indiana University Northwest professor emeritus.
McCrady said, “In January we were told by the mayor we would be informed of any changes or amendments to the ordinance; we were not. This is a stealth operation.” The amendment shows, she said, the people who want to work on the side of developers instead of working on the side of the people.
Emmett Mosley said, “Lay’s amendment wants to take power away from the people. It’s a power grab.”
Melvin Evans told the meeting, “We reached out to the present administration so we could work in tandem. But all we got was ridicule, denigration, and contention at every level. They never tried to work with us.”
Planning Committee chair Ronald Brewer said C.P.O. 2020-39 will remain in committee. He invited CGCBA members to attend the next Planning Committee meeting and voice their concerns about the amendment.
“I support bringing the CGCBA under the control of the City Council,” Brewer said, “and ask the members to apply and bring their resumes to the next committee meeting.”