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Detroit voters say yes to community benefits … sort of

Aerial shot of Detroit
flickr user Barbara Eckstein
Voters opted for Proposal B, which requires developers of projects valued at more than $75 million to accept input from residents regarding community benefits.


One of the big decisions before Detroit voters Tuesday was choosing between a pair of competing "community benefits" proposals.

Both were aimed at making sure private developers seeking tax breaks for projects in Detroit would provide certain benefits to the community around the development: Things like jobs, affordable housing and pollution controls.

Proposal A required developers of projects valued at more than $15 million to negotiate a binding agreement with representatives of the community.

Proposal B was similar, but the threshold was much higher: $75 million. And, the neighborhood groups would have an advisory role in negotiating community benefits, not a legally binding agreement with the developer.

The voters have spoken, and they chose Proposal B.

Reverend Joan Ross is one of the organizers who fought to get Proposal A on the ballot.

Ross told us that the vote proves that Detroiters feel that community benefits are a necessary part of development in their city.

“I think what we heard is that we’re on the right track. We need community benefits and there needs to be resident voice in development,” she said.

The Michigan Campaign Finance Network’s Craig Mauger pointed out that the fight against Proposal A was led by a nonprofit group called Detroit Jobs First. It incorporated in September and ran a heavy schedule of ads calling Proposal A “awful,” carefully not telling people to vote for Proposal B. Under Michigan’s campaign finance laws, if it did directly tell people how to vote, the group would have to reveal its donors.

Ross said this kind of tactic is hard to fight against as a grassroots campaign.

“That .. stands against community. It stands against the desires of community, the wishes that community grassroots folks, on the ground, living with the situation every day have trouble coming up against,” she said.

Proposal A lost to its competitor, but Ross told is the fight isn’t over yet.

“We have now 100,000 Detroit voters who believe in a more equitable plan, who think Proposal A was the way to go,” she said.

“So while Proposal B is on the books, it’s only there for a year, and then things can be adjusted, things can be modified. So we’ll be talking to the voters that stood with us as to how can we approach this, how do we move in the next year to make that proposal more equitable for all of us.”

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