University United Methodist Church Delivered at Press Conference on Fair Housing April 17, 2014
Whenever I, or one of my colleagues from Austin Interfaith, speaks in support of an issue of consequence before the halls of government, I can almost guarantee that someone will say, why don’t those preachers stick to spiritual stuff, stick with the Bible. Why do they have to stick their noses in politics?
In the western Christian tradition, it’s Holy Week. Today is Maundy Thursday. Over the next several days, in powerful and dramatic worship services, each of our faith communities will recall the final days of Jesus’ life to discern meanings for life in our own time. Whenever I return to these readings from our sacred texts, I’m struck not by how spiritual they are, but by how earthy and political they are.
Jesus, who could not remain quiet, who spoke up against empire and the powers that be, was arrested, tried, jailed, beaten, tortured and executed. It doesn’t get much more physical than that.
And his crime?
Proclaiming a vision of a new world, an egalitarian world where the poorest among us are lifted up, where everyone has a place at the table, where every family has their own vine and fig tree, which means everyone has what they need for a life of dignity and purpose and no one lives in fear.
It doesn’t get much more political than that.
Jesus was executed for daring to talk about the way the world might be, the vision of God’s desire for the world, what the gospels call the kingdom of God.
When the pastors of your city get together before the halls of government, as Pastor Joseph and Pastor Katie and Bishop Vasquez have this morning, to talk about discrimination in housing in our city, to talk about the need to open up more housing for folks who live and work in our city and are the poorest in our community—when we do that, we are speaking from the very heart of our faith. When we advocate for legislation that has a direct impact on getting more families off the streets and out of shelters and into housing, we are speaking from the very center of our historic religious traditions. I believe that the mark of a great city is not how it cares for those who have wealth and power. That’s easy. The mark of a great city is whether that city cares for everyone, and especially for the ones who have nowhere to lay their heads. I hope that our city council will vote to support amending the language of the fair housing ordinance to prohibit blatant discrimination and provide more housing for the most vulnerable members of our community.
Austin Interfaith leaders point out the rise in children and immigrants in District 4. Angela Baker, a leader with St. Albert the Great Catholic Church, points out that apartment owners don't keep up: "You can kind of seethe shabbiness as we pass by," she says.
Children, Immigrants Flavor Cultural Stew in Austin's District 4, Austin American Statesman
With 9 out of 10 apartment owners turning away Section 8 voucher users, single mothers like Evita Cruz have few options about where to live. This affects what school her daughter attends, how far she travels for work and how safe she feels in her neighborhood. During Holy Week, Austin Interfaith clergy and lay leadership stood up for people like Evita to demand that the council advance a resolution that would prohibit discrimination based on Section 8 vouchers. Council responded with a 6-0 vote, directing the City Manager to draft language for a formal policy proposal. In photo, Evita Cruz tells her story. More photos here.
Council Approves Voucher Ordinance, KVUE-ABC
Council Could Ban Landlords from Section 8 Discrimination, Time Warner Cable News
Council: Getting a Round Tuit, Austin Chronicle
Policy Austin City Council Says Landlords Can't Discriminate Against Housing Voucher-Holders, Austin American Statesman
The rising cost of living in Austin, though perhaps an inevitable twin to the city’s success, undercuts some of the notions ingrained in the city’s ethos: that growth shouldn’t strain longtime residents; that families are an essential part of the social fabric; and that Austin is an egalitarian, socially conscious, arms-open place where anyone can make it, be they starving artist or teacher or tech investor.
“We have a wide range of congregations, in all nooks and crannies of Austin, across all socioeconomic classifications, and all of them are saying the same thing,” said Bob Batlan, an organizer with Austin Interfaith, a network of churches, unions and schools that has made affordability a top priority. “They’re all telling us Austin is becoming less affordable, for just about everybody. And we need to do something about it.”
Austin's Rising Cost of Living Raises Questions About Who Can Live Here, Austin American Statesman
Koreena Malone, president of the Oak Creek Tenants Association, helped save affordable housing in Oak Creek Cillage by crafting a cohesive agreement on proposed redevelopment in partnership with the Bouldin Creek Neighborhood Association, the tenants association, Travis Heights Elementary School, the developer and Austin Interfaith. ’I strongly believe that the redevelopment of Oak Creek Village won’t just lead us to a better community but a model for the city of Austin,’ Malone said.
The Oak Creek Village complex, located at 2324 Wilson St., has 173 units that qualify as affordable housing. According to city documents, the developer is planning to keep all of the affordable housing units in the complex and build up to 313 new market-rate units…The developer also entered into an agreement … to provide on-site, affordable housing for 35 years. Said Kurt Cadena-Mitchell, an Austin resident and leader of Austin Interfaith,… ‘It will lead to a more livable neighborhood and will lead to a more livable Austin.’”
As Austin Becomes More Expensive, Some Fight to Keep It Affordable, Austin American Statesman [pdf]
Oak Creek Village Strikes a New Deal, Austin Chronicle
Oak Creek Village Redevelopment Approved by Austin City Council, Community Impact News
Exiled From Main Street, Austin Chronicle
Video Testimony of Leaders at City Hall, Austin City Council Recorded Session
"Austin Interfaith volunteers handed out blankets, towels and food Tuesday evening. They say flood victims need more donations including heaters. "So many people still need so much help," said Ofelia Zapata."
Reverend John Elford of the University United Methodist Church asserts that politics and faith do mix when it comes to social justice. In an editorial for the Austin American Statesman he reveals that "A couple of years ago, with the help of Austin Interfaith, we had several meetings with folks who are homeless. We listened to their concerns about life on the streets. I vividly recall one meeting..." He goes on to describe how congregations from Central Austin came together to support the recent passage of the affordable housing bond.
Austin Housing Bond Heads Towards Approval, Austin American Statesman
Austin Interfaith leaders celebrated the passage of a historic living wage ordinance they had fought for over the course of five years. Institutional representatives from congregations, schools and workers associations challenged city council candidates in 2012 to craft an ordinance requiring that jobs emerging from taxpayer incentives pay at least a living wage or prevailing wage, if higher. An economic incentive team put together language, which included an exception process, that was later adopted by a Special Committee on Economic Incentives and proposed by Councilmembers Martinez, Tovo and Morrison Thursday night. Catholic Bishop Joe Vasquez intervened reading a statement of support for the ordinance at a 6pm rally, which was later read by an Austin Interfaith leader in Council chambers. After four hours of testimony and debate, the City of Austin passed, for the first time ever, a requirement that corporations receiving tapayer incentives be required to pay the City established living wage of $11 per hour or prevailling wages, whichever is higher.
Then There’s This: A ‘Decent Wage’, Austin Chronicle
In Austin, Workers Score Big, Texas Observer
Living Wages in Austin, Austin Interfaith
City councilmembers will vote Thursday on a long-debated initiative requiring that corporations that receive public subsidies pay the prevailing wage or at least $11 per hour (the City and County established living wage) -- something that "groups such as Austin Interfaith and the Austin-based Workers Defense Project have been seeking for years."
Economic incentives has been a key issue in prior elections. Austin Interfaith has been working on this issue since 2008.
City May Set $11 Wage for Tax Deals, Austin American Statesman