Even though it is already a done deal, anti-Whole Foods voices in Jamaica Plain —a small, yet vocal minority— issued a public statement today that makes some very unique demands of a private business. We have published it here:
Open Statement: Whole Foods Must Sign a Community Benefits Agreement with Jamaica Plain
The Whose Foods? Coalition is deeply disappointed in Whole Foods’ dismissal of the Good Neighbor Agreement put forward by the JP Neighborhood Council last Wednesday. We were hopeful that a Good Neighbor Agreement would enable Whole Foods to benefit all of JP, the residents who want to shop there and the residents who cannot, those who would benefit from having their property values rise and those who would be pushed out by rent increases.
Whole Foods says it’s unwilling to enter into a Good Neighbor Agreement. The Whose Foods? Coalition is unwilling to let Whole Foods walk into our neighborhood without a real commitment to keeping JP affordable and diverse. Demanding that Whole Foods enter an agreement to counteract the negative effects of its opening is common sense. It’s asking for a fair shake from a good neighbor who is willing to pull their own weight.
“Good Neighbor” or “Community Benefits” Agreements are not new, or crazy, or outlandish. The Stop & Shop development in Jackson Square involved a Community Benefits Agreement, as did the IKEA in Somerville. A Community Benefits Agreement is based on the principle that companies benefit substantially from the resources built by neighbors in a community. Companies, therefore, should share a part of the wealth they gain from the community.
Even 1% of the annual revenue from Whole Foods’ Jamaica Plain store would help prevent the displacement of our neighbors. It would help organizers work towards better policies and against destructive rent-hikes. It would help ensure that there are affordable housing options in our neighborhood. It would help low-income people, many of whom are Latino or African American, be able to stay and enjoy the neighborhood that that is home — and that many people with longstanding roots have fought hard to improve, only to be threatened with displacement.
We demand this 1% for the funding of local anti-displacement organizing, especially in Hyde Square, and the creation and/or preservation of local affordable housing, annually for the duration of the store’s 20-year lease. We demand a small slice of the pie that our neighborhood makes possible. Being a good neighbor means mutuality.
The Whose Foods? Coalition also supports other demands that came out of JP’s Neighborhood Council’s months-long research on the corporation:
1) a living wage (at minimum) for all employees in JP
2) a published traffic study prior to opening
3) funding for youth programs, food assistance and local business assistance
Whole Foods told Boston.com that “Definitely a large percentage of the items are things Whole Foods already does.” Where’s the concrete evidence of the corporation’s commitment to a living wage, its published traffic study, and funding for youth, food access, and local business?
More urgently, where’s evidence that Whole Foods is taking seriously the outcry over its impact on property values and displacement, its undeniable role in the negative aspects of urban gentrification, and demands for contributions toward housing accessibility in JP? The corporation came secretly into Hyde Square, the “Latin Quarter”, of our neighborhood last winter, leased a grocery space that was a staple of Latino community. Refusing to offer meaningful contributions that will control the threat of displacement, it simply runs local ads in Spanish. Whole Foods, face the issue of displacement, the issue of gentrification — enter a formal community benefits agreement and give 1%.
Whole Foods can absolutely afford to pay its fair share. Whole Foods paid a corporate tax rate of under 10% last year, and generated a windfall profit for its shareholders. It generated over 9 billion dollars last year via its 300+ stores (touting itself as the “world’s largest retailer of natural and organic foods.”). The bottom line is this: Whole Foods makes additional profit by passing off the cost of their impact on neighborhoods. This impact includes losing money that would have circulated in local businesses; losing families who get pushed out by rent increases; and losing economic and cultural diversity.
Progressive-minded residents of Jamaica Plain, now is our time to represent, to act. Start by calling Whole Foods Market’s regional headquarters, and encourage them to sign a meaningful agreement. Call your elected officials; tell them to support an agreement between Whole Foods and Jamaica Plain. Email the JP non-profits you support, recommending their solidarity. And email the JP Neighborhood Council with support and encouragement for their efforts.
As progressives, as neighbors, and as a community we must demand loudly a binding agreement and 1% for affordable housing in our neighborhood. We must demand a living wage, a public traffic study, and funding for youth, food access and local business. A binding agreement can set an important national precedent for urban communities struggling to maintain affordability and diversity in the face of large corporations shifting their sights from suburbs to cities. We must claim our power as a community, because the future of this story is in our hands.
The following people have added their names in support of this statement. If you’d like, you can add your own name here: http://whosefoods.org/cba-today
Travis Reed Miller
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