Community Benefit Agreements Help University Expansions Benefit Everyone

From USC to Columbia University, "town and gown" collaborations regarding university expansion have proven to benefit all parties, writes planning activist and affordable housing developer Murtaza Baxamusa.

August 28, 2018, 11:00 AM PDT

By wadams92101


California neighborhood

By McClean Photography / Shutterstock

The multiplier impact of universities on local economies has been shown to be virtually unparalleled. This is particularly important given how cities are often pitted against each other to attract businesses that promise a high number of jobs. As has recently been highlighted by the Amazon HQ2 competition, cities compete with each other to give away public land and tax subsidies to attract major employers. Sometimes, these "incentive packages" result in a net loss to local taxpayers. In all cases, cities are rewarded for minimizing funding of everything from education, to parks, to life & safety services. In contrast, universities are rarely as aggressive as private for-profit enterprises in seeking local subsidies, and in any case, are highly unlikely to move to another city to obtain subsidies. Additionally, universities help support a wide range of private enterprises, from low skilled services, to everyday supplies, to skilled trades, to high-tech and life-sciences start-ups.

Nevertheless, when universities seek to expand, it can be traumatic and damaging for adjacent neighborhoods and residents, particularly if community needs and goals are not given a voice in the matter. San Diego planning activist and affordable housing developer Murtaza Baxamusa writes about the topic in the context of an upcoming voter referendum concerning a sale of the Charger Stadium land to San Diego State University for expansion. Baxamusa references several recent university expansions to review the tensions and the resolutions. He opines that full collaboration and engagement, memorialized in a community benefits agreement, optimizes the expansion for both parties. He references the recent USC expansion as an example of the items that can be addressed in such agreements. For more detailed information, please see the source article.

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