Central TX Interfaith Leverages $10M from County in Added Housing Support, Calls on City of Austin to Invest $40M in Rental Relief
On the heels of leveraging $10 Million in housing assistance from Travis County one day prior, Central Texas Interfaith leaders called on the City of Austin to provide at least $40 Milllion in rental assistance for economically distressed families in the COVID-19 crisis.
Leaders noted that while at present, the City of Austin invests $1.2 million for rental assistance, and $7 million overall toward housing assistance, over 50% of low income Austin residents are considered “cost-burdened” (ie. pay over 30% of their income toward housing costs) and 93% of Very Low Income Austin residents are “distressed renters”.
Parish leaders from Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic in East Austin argued that “though evictions have been halted, rent and late fees are piling up, and many residents are receiving warnings from landlords to pay up."
Said Rev. Miles Brandon of St. Julian of Norwich Episcopal Church, "Austin did well by creating the RISE fund and some rental assistance programs, but we can, and must do more.”
Group to Austin Leaders: Give $40 Million Cut From Coronavirus Funds to Renters, Austin American Statesman
Austin Nonprofit Seeks Assistance for Renters, KVUE [video]
Housing Committee Talks Scaling Rental Assistance Program, Austin Monitor
Update at 5:35 p.m. – Group says Bastrop County's targeted arrests are dangerous during pandemic
Local groups in Bastrop County are asking the sheriff to stop targeted arrests aimed at Latino communities in the area, which they say complicate things for many families during the COVID-19 pandemic
Bastrop Interfaith, a coalition of neighborhood groups and church congregations in the county, is asking Bastrop County Sheriff Maurice Cook to stop his crackdown on minor traffic violations, which was flagged by the Austin American-Statesmen last week.
The group says the crackdown has led to a spike in deportations and arrests in mostly immigrant and Latino communities, and is putting many residents at risk.
Edie Clark, a leader with Bastrop Interfaith, said families already dealing with financial insecurity are now too scared to even pick up food at a food pantry.
“These people are just dealing with so many issues right now,” she said. “The last thing that we need is to be scaring people about being arrested. You know, we want to keep everybody safe.”
Clark said filling up jails during the pandemic is also a public health hazard. Her group has asked to meet with the sheriff to discuss this new policy.
Central TX Interfaith Supports Relief in a State Emergency (RISE), Recommends Direct Income Payments
Central Texas Interfaith understands that millions of low-income people across the country will not be reached by the benefits of the CARES Act, leaving the most vulnerable with limited options to survive, let alone recover from the Covid-19 crisis. Included in these millions are members of our congregations, our schools, nonprofit associations, and neighbors. It is for that reason that our organization is calling on Congress to provide sustained financial support to every person in the United States through the duration of the crisis, and the Governor to invest Rainy Day funds in similar ways.
Our City has the opportunity today to invest local dollars in those left out of the federal stimulus package. Extending financial relief to them is not only in line with our faith traditions but will give us all a better chance of recovering from this public health crisis. We ask our Mayor and City Council to support the RISE (Relief in a State Emergency) fund, and we recommend that a substantial portion of those funds go directly into the hands of people through direct income payments. Direct aid is the most economically efficient way to support low-income individuals and families, and to provide survival options for those most in need. Direct income payments furthermore offer stimulative supports to our local economy and reduce administrative and bureaucratic overhead. We also support funding for other vital social services like food pantries, which are currently experiencing shortages.
For the sake of efficiency, and for justice, we hope that the Council will support the RISE fund, make funding available to people left out of the current stimulus packages, and ensure that a substantial portion of that funding be provided as direct income assistance.
Central TX Interfaith, with Waco Mayor and County Judge, Convenes 100+ Clergy to Navigate Stay-at-Home Orders
With the coronavirus transforming the way religious congregations operate all over Texas, Central Texas Interfaith has been at the forefront of efforts in Waco and McLennan County to bring together congregational leaders and help them navigate Stay-at-Home orders.
Town Hall Held with Faith Leaders, CBS-KWTX
"We believe people should be our priority over market, knowing that the two are not entirely disconnected.”
-- The Rev. Miles Brandon, St. Julian of Norwich Episcopal Church
In the only public testimony at today’s Texas Public Utilities Commission (PUC) meeting, Texas IAF leader Rev. Miles Brandon of Central Texas Interfaith called on the PUC to create assistance programs and halt cutoffs for customers impacted by the economic and health impacts of the COVID-19 crisis. At the meeting the PUC voted to create the “COVID-19 Electricity Relief Program” providing financial assistance and halting service disconnections for low-income and unemployed customers in deregulated markets such as Dallas, Houston, and Round Rock
“COVID-19 is causing uncertainty and many hardships, and during this time, Central Texas Interfaith and our partner organizations in Texas IAF don’t want Texas citizens to have their physical or financial health put in danger unnecessarily," said Rev. Brandon, who is based in Round Rock.
PUC Chair DeAnn T. Walker recognized Fr. Brandon and the work of the Texas IAF organizations in advocating for families across the state.
6 million Texans live in the areas impact by the measures enacted by PUC today including Round Rock, Dallas and Houston. Texas IAF leaders plan to work with PUC leaders to extend and potentially expand these protections and assistance programs as long as the COVID-19 crisis continues.
[Photo Credit: Texas Tribune]
Statement by Rev. Miles Brandon, St. Julian of Norwich Episcopal Church, Central TX Interfaith
Statement by Bryan Lopez, Assumption Catholic Church in Houston, TMO
Call your Congress Member &
US Senators from Texas TODAY
For Direct Income Payments & Access to Testing!
CALL TO ACTION – Call or email your Congressperson and our 2 US Senators from Texas today to demand immediate federal funding for direct grants (income payments) to adults and an immediate expansion of funding for testing to be accessible to those who need it most, regardless of ability to pay. We will need to continue calls/emails even if the current stimulus package being debated passes. See talking points below.
For phone numbers and direct email links to your Congressperson and our 2 U.S. Senators from Texas, enter your address at this website: https://www.270towin.com/elected-officials/
INTRO – “Hello, my name is (name), I am with (name of your congregation or institution) and Central Texas Interfaith. With millions of lives at stake, we are calling on you (Congressperson’s name or U.S. Senator’s name) to advocate and vote for legislation that does the following:
ISSUE 1 - DIRECT GRANT/PAYMENTS TO AMERICANS
- Congress should immediately pass economic stimulus measures that provide ongoing grants (direct payments) from the US government -- not just for one month, but $1,000-$1,200 per month for every adult living in the U.S. until we are clear of this crisis.
- This should ideally target people making less than $80,000-$100,000 per year. This would allow low- to moderate-income people and families the ability to pay rent, purchase food, and have access to basic health services, utilities, transportation and other essentials.
- The target should be every American taxpayer, regardless of nationality or whether they use a Tax Identification Number in lieu of a Social Security Number.
- If the current stimulus bill being debated provides at least a start of an initial payment $1,000-$1,200, then pass it. But this should be followed up with successive legislation to make payments ongoing.
ISSUE 2 - AVAILABILITY OF CORONAVIRUS TESTING
- Congress should provide the funding necessary to vastly scale-up the availability of coronavirus tests for Americans who need it most.
- Testing should be available equally regardless of ability to pay, insured status, nationality, geographic area, and available to those who are homeless or are in the criminal justice system.
- This includes adequate funding for ancillary testing equipment and protective gear for providers.
Our world, and how we order our lives, has changed dramatically. Though many of us are safely hunkered down in our homes, let us keep at the forefront of minds the elderly and most vulnerable, those experiencing homelessness, those who have lost their jobs, and those whose jobs keep us alive while putting themselves at risk, like healthcare, grocery, and other retail and service works. After we ensure our families, friends, and others around us are safe and secure, lets carve out the time to continue to act on the faith that our collective power, will, and imagination are greatest when we keep organizing.
....Jewish wisdom teaches that if you don’t know if you are selling weaponry or the materials to make weapons to people who are known to be safe or people who have a history of violence, then you may not sell. American Law responds to this wisdom with the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS). When someone goes to buy a firearm from a Federal Firearms Licensee (FFL), that FLL (a.k.a. the seller) contacts the NICS and the NICS staff performs the background check on the buyer.
But, if the seller doesn’t get an answer from the NICS in three business days, he can sell without a completed background check. In addition, there are no required background checks for gun purchases at gun shows or other private sales. Resulting from this loophole, the shooter in Midland-Odessa was able to purchase his gun from a private seller, though he had previous failed a background check and been denied a gun purchase from an FFL.
Addressing these loopholes is the exact topic of two bills, HR1112 and HR8, respectively. Each passed by the US House at the end of February, and each were read twice in the Senate in March. It is time to urge Senator Cornyn to take action to prevent gun violence and save lives in Texas! As a senior member of the Senate he can help pass these two bills to close these loopholes.
Central Texas Interfaith is calling on Senator Cornyn to act. We are gathering thousands of postcards from Texans like us to send to Senator John Cornyn, showing that we stand with our brothers and sisters in El Paso in the fight for gun violence prevention through national policies. When you sign and return one of these post cards in person or online you are adding your voice to the call...
Rabbi Rebecca Reice: Gun Owners Can — And Should! — Work to End Gun Violence, Hill Country News [pdf]
At a special session on Austin's Land Use Code Revision, Central Texas Interfaith leaders called attention to real-time displacement happening in Northeast Austin and potential revisions in the land use code to prevent the displacement of hundreds of mobile home residents and precariously housed low-income families. Congregational leaders stood with mobile home park residents facing eviction as they delivered testimony in support of interventions to better protect residents.
In reference to gentrification and the displacement of low-income and people of color from Austin, CTI leader David Guarino "kicked off what would be a full day of public testimony with what he called the 'profound question.'
'Is the Austin we’re becoming truly the city we want to be?'”
Testimony by him and Francisco Martinez of Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic called on the City of Austin to do better.
Testimony by David Guarino, All Saints Episcopal [video]
Testimony by Francisco Martinez, Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic [video]
Rev. John Elford, senior pastor at University United Methodist, and David Guarino of All Saints Episcopal point out how state action impacts homelessness in Austin.
....Austin is at a critical moment in our fight to end homelessness. Recent attempts to revise the city’s old ordinances, which effectively criminalized everyday activities, brought people experiencing homelessness out of the shadows. It was hard to miss that our neighbors were suffering.
The response of the governor was to order the dismantling of encampments under state highways and provide a vacant lot off U.S. 183 as an alternative campground, far from the city’s social service and transportation hubs. As a result, many of our unhoused neighbors have been forced back to the woods, out of sight.
For years, state leaders have systematically disinvested in Texas’ public sector, exacerbating this problem. They have failed to make adequate provisions for affordable housing, social services, mental health and health care, and workforce development, pushing these costs to local governments. At the same time, these Texas leaders have limited the ability of cities to pick up the tab. They have contributed to the problem of homelessness and branded those who are suffering as criminal and disease-ridden.
The problem stretches further up the income spectrum. In one of our congregations, mobile home residents east of U.S. 183 are being pushed out by an owner who simply wants a higher rate of return. The tenants have been kicked to the curb, their last affordable housing options in Austin gone.
There is broad agreement that the real answer to people living on our streets is not relocating our neighbors, but creating sustainable housing....
[Photo Credit: Jay Janner, Austin American Statesman]
Commentary: This Holiday, Let's Focus on Hope for Homeless, Austin American Statesman [pdf]
After a successful 32-year history of organizing, 320 leaders from Bastrop, Comal, Hays, Travis, McLennan (Waco) and Williamson counties officially renamed and re-founded itself as Central Texas Interfaith (CTI). Leaders from 8 geographic clusters launched local organizing strategies that have extended the reach of Central Texas Interfaith into a 10-county region heading into the 2020 elections.
Leaders told gripping stories about responding to homelessness and mobile home displacement, caring for aging parents, confronting racial discrimination in traffic stops and checkpoints, winning local fights around bridges and park cleanup and the success of the IAF 'Recognizing the Stranger' immigration strategy. Delegates affirmed an agenda of issues informed by these stories and committed to signing up 50,000 voters to support that agenda across all 10 counties.
Delegates also committed to raising $250,000 to support a robust, nonpartisan accountability and Get Out The Vote strategy in 2020.