Huge Victory in Bristol as Mayor Pulls Back Council Tax Exemption Proposal

Bristol ACORN blocks an eviction

Lake Buckhorn, Ontario   ACORN members, leaders, and organizers were celebrating with the news that the mayor of Bristol, England, had folded under growing pressure from the ACORN campaign and shelved his proposal to eliminate exemptions for lower income families from the council tax. ACORN’s research and reports indicate that the victory protects the 16,000 poorest families in the city and blocks them having to pay 9 million pounds or almost $12 million dollars. This is a huge victory, as an ACORN representative told the bristolcable.org, an on-line news provider there, “This is a vindication of all the hard work that ACORN members have put in over the last few months, taking on what looked like a hopeless campaign and smashing it into the ground. We can fight and we can win.”

So, why is this so critical? The council tax is the main governmental revenue generator for local city councils in England. It is a combination of property and personal taxes, usually about 50-50. For the growing millions of private tenants, the council tax is paid by the tenant in single occupancy situations and by the landlord in multiple unit complexes though of course passed on. It is a somewhat progressive tax compared to real estate taxes in the US because there are multiple “bands” assigned by value, and there historically have been some exceptions and exemptions from full payment that “reduce the amount of council tax owed on a property depending on the occupants’ income, age, employment status, health, being a full-time student, or if the property is unoccupied,” according to Wikipedia.

And, that’s the rub. Under the British government’s austerity program and cutbacks in recent years, many councils have rolled back one exemption after another in order to replace revenue that they had lost due to the central government’s reductions. One report indicates that only 32 of the 353 various councils in England continue to offer full exemptions. It is in this economic and political climate that the battle was waged in Bristol, when the Mayor decided to remove the exemption for the poorest families, and given the rollbacks across the country, why ACORN had initially begun this fight even knowing that it was an almost “hopeless campaign.”

For months though Bristol ACORN had thrown everything they could at the Mayor. There was a petition that quickly gained 4000 signatures. ACORN issued a report in the form of briefing document to the city councilors outlining the economic arguments against the removal of the exemption, including the belief that it would end up costing the city up to 4 million pounds for various reasons if they removed the exemption. There were actions a plenty and highly visible “stalls” or tabling around the issue making the campaign hard to ignore.

Politically, endorsements for the campaign began rolling in with some Labour Party councilors indicating they would publicly bolt on the vote with others silently behind them and the Green and Liberal Democratic Parties coming on board with threats to sue because the consultation had been illegitimate offering various ways of cutting the exemptions with no option of standing pat. Other Labour Party chapters were also preparing to endorse the ACORN campaign. The weight of all of this forced the Mayor to finally retreat, handing a huge victory to the organization.

The Mayor claims he may come back again next year, but ACORN had a ready response and threw down the gauntlet for this fight and many to come saying in what could become the motto of the Bristol organization, “We’ve done it before and we’ll do it again, because we are ACORN and we refuse to lose.”

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Please enjoy A Little Pain by Margo Price.

Thanks to KABF.

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Where Will People Fit in a Google Designed City?

Sidewalk Labs

Toronto   In Toronto, the Prime Minister, Ontario and Toronto officials, and of course representatives from Alphabet, the parent company of Google, all were back slapping and hand clapping each other about Google’s subsidiary, Sidewalk Labs, winning bid to develop an 800-acre tract of land along the waterfront as a rare opportunity to put their ideas in place in building the so-called “city of the future.” How exciting, but is this really good news? Will this really even fit their old standard of accountability, “don’t be evil?”

Not surprisingly, most of their winning proposal was based on deep-pockets and high-tech visionary speak. As described by New York Times’ columnist, Emily Badger,

The Sidewalk Labs proposal in the competitive bid for the project floated all kinds of technological dreams: a thermal energy grid that would be carbon neutral, sensors that separate waste from recycling, modular buildings that convert from retail to housing, monitors that track noise and pollution, self-driving transit shuttles, shared-ride taxibots, adaptive traffic lights, delivery robots, heated bike paths and sidewalks that melt snow on their own.

To some people all of that sounds interesting and bells-and-whistles innovative, but I have to wonder where people are in this plan, and that’s a little scary.

They claim they are going to make 20% of the housing units in the development affordable, but when they spoke of affordability, they did not talk about income or the percentage of rent paid to family income, but instead, typical of technologists, claimed that they had some tricks up their sleeves to make the construction cheaper. Wow! Do they have a lot of learn about what constitutes affordable housing in a city of tenants, like Toronto, and a city undergoing huge gentrification pressure and escalating rent-to-income levels in neighborhood after neighborhood.

An old 2006 Statistics Canada study found that 40% of Canadians pay more than 30% for rent. Polls in recent years indicate that Canadians “spend 43 per cent of each dollar of household income on housing-related costs, which include mortgage and rent, as well as paying for utilities.” Globally, that’s the 3rd highest percentage in the world, and in Toronto it’s even worse than the average. There’s a waiting list of over 180,000 for social housing. There are 94,000 in social housing, and another 70,000 roughly in housing subsidized to the 30% standard on rent-to-income. A 2015 study by TD Economics found that clearly half of Toronto’s population is paying an average 50% of their income to landlords and that it is creating a “class divide” in the city, undermining Canada’s reputation for a commitment to equality.

Furthermore, what are the definitions of “affordable housing” going to be for this high-tech urban experimental lab? If it were to be defined based on 20% of the housing being a percentage of market-rate rent, then London has already proven that that formula is gentrification and push-out on steroids. Unless the percentage of affordable units is pushed up and affordability is based on income, this won’t be the city-of-the-future, but more of the same with a higher electric bill to run all of their gadgets and geehaws.

Sidewalk Labs claims it is going to do a lot of consultation. We’ve heard that before, but if it is real at all, they need to have a better answer than we can find in their proposal for how real people can fit into their tech dreams.

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