Thursday, September 12th was the first day for city council after their recess. Like coming back to school after summer break, it’s a time to get back to work. For members of the Philadelphia Coalition for Affordable Communities, it is also a time to get back to work in a sense. We work all year round, but the first day of council is special. On that day we get back to making city council aware of our presence.
This year we are demanding change to the ten year tax abatement. The tax abatement means tax free development on new construction, for ten years! In other words, developers don’t pay property taxes on all that fancy development you see happening in your neighborhood. Meanwhile, neighboring property taxes go up, affecting renters and homeowners. It also means that public schools lose revenue since schools are funded, in part, through property taxes.
This incentive may have been a good thing when it started more than a decade ago to spur community revitalization, but it is now clear that developers no longer need this incentive. We need everyone to pay their fair share of taxes to fund things like affordable, accessible housing and public schools.
This year, we met outside city hall at 10am and gathered with members of Our City Our Schools, an education reform coalition fighting for school funding. The coalition wore our signature green shirts with our message of development without displacement and Our City Our Schools came in their signature orange. Our objective was to present a united front to city council so they would know they can no longer pit us against each other. We know that the city can and should fund both education and accessible, affordable housing. These two things are essential parts of a fair and equitable city.
After t-shirts and information was handed out to our members pictures were taken, instructions were given and together we headed up to council chambers.
We filed into council chambers and probably took up at least a third of the seats including handicapped spaces. Quietly we each put on headbands with thought bubbles on them. Our theme this year was giving council a piece of our minds so each thought bubble was a silent call to council members. “Will they listen to their constituents?” “Who is brave enough to take on the tax abatement?”
For more than an hour our silent presence loomed over the proceedings. We did not shout or disrupt, but there was no way we could not be seen taking up a large portion of the room wearing bright green and orange shirts with thought bubbles on our heads. A radio host sitting in council chambers reporting on the days activities noticed our thought bubbles and read a few on air. At noon, as a group, we got up and walked out. I’m sure we were noticed then as well.
The event was a success. We had more than 75 people in attendance to remind council that we are still here, we are still active, we are united and we will not go away until we get what we deserve. We want a city that is affordable for the vast majority of the people working and living here. We want homes that are accessible for people with disabilities. We want quality education for our children. We do not believe these goals are unreasonable or unattainable. We will continue to fight for these goals and hopefully you reading this will fight with us.