Community Benefits Agreement at the Dearborn project
The Northwest’s first comprehensive Community Benefits Agreement
In 2008, after almost two years of negotiations, an agreement was struck between the Dearborn Street Coalition for Livable Neighborhoods (DSCLN) and Dearborn Street Developers LLC on a $300-million project, slated to be built on a 10-acre site at the crossroads of Seattle’s most economic and ethnically diverse communities – including Little Saigon, the Central District, the International District and North Rainier Valley.
“This project has come a long way toward ensuring that neighborhood families will benefit from the economic growth this project will bring. More workers will now earn a livable wage and live in affordable housing and the development will better meet the needs of the people who work and live here,” said David West, executive director of Puget Sound Sage.
Sage was joined by neighborhood groups and Little Saigon small business district leaders in negotiating key sections of the agreement. The Dearborn coalition was comprised of 30+ business, neighborhood, labor, faith, housing, environmental, immigrant, and communities of color organizations, all deeply concerned with how growth and change shape Seattle’s neighborhoods.
“This CBA – the first in the Pacific Northwest – gives community groups like Jackson Place and others a voice in shaping their neighborhoods,” said Maura Deering, a member of the Jackson Place Community Council Board of Directors. “We are glad to have played a role in setting this type of precedent.”
Another coalition member, Jermaine Smiley of Laborers Local 242 commented, “Making sure this project provided living wage jobs and benefits was a key issue for us.”
“This agreement is a step in the right direction for neighborhoods such as Little Saigon where development pressure is high. The agreement helps balance development interests and neighborhood interests,” said Quang H. Nguyen, executive director of the Washington Vietnamese American Chamber of Commerce.
Community Benefits won:
The Dearborn project was originally proposed at 600,000-square feet of
retail and 500 units of housing. The site was located between South
Dearborn and Weller streets at Rainier Ave on Goodwill Industries
property. The project was canceled due to the economic downturn that
became the Great Recession.
While this means the historic CBA we won will not bear fruit, it
represents a groundbreaking model for win-win development that is
accountable to community stakeholders. Among the items in our
unprecedented agreement, Dearborn Street Developers LLC had agreed to:
Follow fair labor standards by hiring construction contractors that pay prevailing wages and provide health and retirement benefits; and by ensuring that 15% of all work hours are performed by apprentices. The contractors will also participate in minority/women-owned business programs and strive to hire local residents through pre-apprentice programs;
Ensure grocery and drug stores agree to stay neutral if employees decide to unionize. Janitors, security officers and other employees of the development will be covered by the same labor standards;
Build 200 units of low-income housing in the project;
Contribute $200,000 to mitigate traffic impacts in the Little Saigon and Jackson place neighborhoods in addition to the street improvements that the developer will pay for as traffic mitigation immediately around the project;
Offer below-market rents on 5,000 square feet of space in the project to community nonprofits at a cost of $1 million;
Contribute $200,000 for the design of a community center in Little Saigon, and $600,000 over 12 years to support the Little Saigon commercial district;
Use environmentally sustainable building practices.
Under the agreement, 200 of the 500 units of housing in the project would have been low-income units built by the Seattle Housing Authority. Of these units, 120 would be affordable to families making no more than 50% of the city’s median income, or $32,550 for a two-person household. The other 80 units would be affordable to families making no more than 80% of the median income.
In addition, the City Council affirmed the role of the CBA by including some of the benefits in the City's own agreement with the developer, allowing the City to enforce the provisions as well as the community.
An additional land use change needed by the developer to achieve his project’s design was called a street vacation; essentially, he was requesting permission to take almost 2 acres of public streets and alleys on the site into private ownership. The developer was required to pay the city for the street vacations. The coalition and developer had asked that the city invest those funds, expected to be $4-8 million, in the adjacent neighborhoods: apply them toward capitol costs of a Vietnamese community center or marketplace, traffic calming improvements in Jackson Place neighborhood, and other community development projects. Because the project was canceled, this did not take place.
The Dearborn CBA is a first for the Northwest region and sets precedents in many areas. The affordable housing and family housing guarantees were the largest of their kind for a commercial project on private land. The agreement’s ban on predatory lending was unprecedented. The project’s plans included the largest combination of green roofs and green walls in the northwest.
The Dearborn Project was the first major development where local unions joined with community groups to win common objectives, such as affordable housing for low-wage service workers. The result was a fully-enforceable agreement to benefit the community, the developer, and Goodwill Industries.
The community benefits model we created with countless community members provides a template and a vision for what is possible in Washington.
The Vietnamese Cultural Center or Marketplace would have been a step toward preserving Little Saigon’s unique small business community in the midst of urban growth and rising rents. This district is still under threat from other development plans in the neighborhood, such as the Community stakeholders are still working towards their goal of building such a cultural anchor.