The Role of Community Benefit Agreements in New York City's Land Use Process

A community benefits agreement (CBA) results from negotiations between a developer proposing a particular land use and a coalition of community organizations that claims to represent the individuals and groups affected by the proposed development. In a typical CBA, community members agree to support the developer’s proposed project, or at least promise not to oppose the project or to invoke procedural devices or legal challenges that might delay or derail the project. In return, the developer agrees to provide to the community such benefits as assurances of local jobs, affordable housing and environmental improvements.

In New York City, developers and community groups began to use CBAs in the last few years. Because most CBAs are relatively new, there is scant evidence, either empirical or anecdotal, to evaluate whether CBAs are a net benefit to the parties who enter into these agreements. Similarly, little is known about the impact CBAs have on those individuals or community groups that are in the neighborhood of the development, but were not parties to the agreements. Nor is it yet clear what effect CBAs will have on the land use process or the City’s development climate more generally.

In a report written by Vicki Been, Boxer Family Professor of Law, NYU School of Law; Wesley O'Brien; Ethel Sheffer AICP; and Stroock partner Ross Moskowitz, the Association of the Bar of the City of New York:

  • outlines the structure, history, and political and legal context of CBAs;
  • reviews the history of New York City’s debates over deal-making in land use controversies over the past few decades;
  • evaluates the benefits and drawbacks various stakeholders perceive CBAs to offer or threaten;
  • and surveys some of the thorny legal and policy questions presented by CBAs.

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