july 10, 2000
Rising tides. Want
to fix up your property? If you own rental units in San
Francisco, the city does its best to promote the general
welfare of your pocketbook, allowing landlords to raise
tenants’ rent to pay for major building improvements.
Says tenant Carolyn Blair, who faces a major rent
increase, "My landlord gets 100 percent of the
profit, but I’m paying 100 percent of the costs and the
worst part is that he writes it off on his tax
return!" The tide may soon turn, if the Housing
Rights Committee of San Francisco has its way. In recent
weeks HRC, a Tides Center project and the largest tenancy
advocacy membership group in the city, has collected
16,000 signatures on a ballot initiative to restrict the
practice unless owners can show they are actually
receiving a less than fair return on their property.
Voters can get on board in November.
Making waves. The digital divide has been deepened
by some of the telecommunications industry’s own key
players, argues a report just released by the tech mavens
at another Tides Center project, NetAction. "How
the Bells Stole America’s Digital Future"
describes a whole flotilla of unkept promises, as phone
companies offered to wire "nearly half of America's
households and the vast majority of the nation's schools…
with high-speed fiber optic networks capable of delivering
super-fast two-way Internet connections, interactive
video, and more." In return, they received relief
from pro-consumer regulations. Author Bruce Kushnick of
the New Networks Institute, who has monitored the Baby
Bells’ finances since the break-up of AT&T, says the
wiring never materialized. Nevertheless, on the basis of
the deals, the companies managed to net a tidy profit —
more than twice that of other regulated utilities — and
Baby Bell customers subsidized the non-wiring to the tune
of $45 billion in extra phone charges. The report
concludes by urging Congressional hearings on these excess
profits before giving in to pressure to expand the Bells’
territory into long distance sea lanes.
Lifting boats. In the midst of the much-hailed U.S.
economic boom, poverty is increasing, reports a study
issued by the Conference
Board and funded by the Russell Sage Foundation.
Looking at historical data from the past several decades,
the study notes that poverty declined dramatically in the
1960s and early 1970s but has been on the rise ever since.
"The rising economic tide in the US. has clearly not
lifted all boats," says Linda Barrington, an expert
in poverty measurement at the Conference Board. "The
number of full-time workers classified as poor increased
between 1997 and 1998. Over the last quarter century, the
poverty rate among full-time workers has been higher than
today only twice — 1982 and 1983 — years in which the
economy was coming off a recession." In 1998 nearly 3
percent of all full-time workers lived below the official
poverty line of $13,003 (for a family of three). Including
dependents, that’s more than 5 million people. The data
take a surprising tack when broken down according to race
and ethnic group: marked differences between regions
suggest the strong influence of local economic structures
rather than traditional prejudices. In the West, for
example, the only part of the country where all racial and
ethnic groups occupy more or less the same berth, poverty
among people of color has dropped. It is now lower than it
is for the entire full-time workforce, while poverty among
white has been climbing ever since the 1970s. Notes
Barrington, "Simply working full-time year-round,
even in a booming economy, is not enough to lift everyone
out of poverty." Living wage, anyone?