Director, Community Wealth Building Programs
Challenges addressed by community wealth building
The challenges our cities and communities face in this moment are many: a fair and equitable recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic. Staving off climate catastrophe. A long-overdue reckoning with systemic racism and injustice. War and global instability. Each threatens the lives and livelihoods of all people, and especially the poor and working-class people in front line communities.
Each challenge is exacerbated by a crisis that has defined America for too long: wealth inequality. Already at historic highs, it has exploded during COVID-19. While millions lost their jobs, healthcare, and savings, the wealthiest among us have only grown richer – three Americans now own as much wealth as the bottom 49% of Americans (more than 160 million people) put together.
This inequality is not a coincidence. It is the result of an economic system that concentrates the vast wealth of our nation in the hands of a few at the very top. In this moment of compounding crises, we will not succeed by tinkering within the confines of this extractive system. We need a transformative new approach: Community Wealth Building.
Community Wealth Building keeps hard-earned wealth in the hands of the people and communities that create it in the first place. Instead of extraction and exploitation, CWB creates an economy that produces equity as its everyday, natural function – and in doing so, shifts the behavior and attitudes of people, communities, cities, and potentially the United States as a whole. CWB replaces the focus on what our local economies have conventionally accepted and valued – growth combined with trickle-down economics, attracting large corporations, maximizing shareholder profit – with new progressive values and goals: communal ownership, justice, and shared wealth.
By keeping wealth in our communities, CWB addresses the interrelated challenges of our time. When workers are their own bosses, they are less likely to be laid off during a pandemic. When we invest in local green energy solutions, everyday Americans will no longer be at the mercy of gas prices that come from global instability. When public investment flows into housing, local businesses, and resources for Black and Brown communities – rather than the shareholders of corporate America– racial justice will finally be on the horizon. CWB is not revitalization with a new name. It is about a new way of organizing our local economies to ensure that they genuinely work for all Americans.
Elements of CWB are already being deployed in American cities and communities all over the world: a worker-owned enterprise in the Bronx, a CLT in Georgia, a community bank in Ohio. What has always been missing from these one-off projects is the structure and strategy CWB provides: the ability to connect and scale across the whole local system, and ensure each progressive intervention works together in synergy to create a local economy greater than the sum of its parts.