Austin Interfaith Celebrates 30 Years of Building Power



"In 1988, then-East Austin resident Ofelia Zapata was among the first helped by a new group whose mission is to build stronger communities by teaching residents how to organize and leverage their political capital.

Born poor and with visual disabilities, the young widow with three daughters joined Austin Interfaith, a non-denominational, non-partisan umbrella organization of various churches, temples and charitable community groups.

Zapata first got involved when she was a member of Our Lady of Guadalupe Church. She wanted to ensure her daughters’ schools provided an education as good as more affluent schools across town, she said. Austin Interfaith members worked to help pass bond propositions to build parks and schools in East Austin, where she lived at the time...."  Click here to read more.

Austin Interfaith Celebrates 30 Years of Building PowerAustin American Statesman [pdf]


HVHM Residents' Association Wins BIG on Mobile Home Park Resident Protections


Last July, Hidden Valley / High Meadows (mobile home) residents became distressed when lot rents for people on month-to-month leases were raised for the second time within a 12-month period.  New rules mandated improvements and standardizations — adding new costs to residents — including deck and railing upgrades, paint jobs, skirting repair, shed standardization, color control and control over inside window coverings visible from the street.  Families were also asked to demonstrate possession of a drivers' license to drive on the property, impacting hundreds of residents. Many families scrambled to comply; some left.   

Residents reached out to Austin Interfaith and Texas RioGrande Legal Aid (TRLA) for support and within two months founded their association (Hidden Valley / High Meadows Residents' Association) and signed up over 200 households as members.  

On December 10, the HVHMRA signed a historic accord with their landlord, Scott Roberts of Roberts Communities, locking  in many protections, including the:

  • Right to organize residents' associations that represent the interests of mobile home park residents.
  • First rent control concession in a mobile home park of Austin, locking in no more than 5% increases through 2017 and rent increase caps in subsequent years.
  • Protections for undocumented immigrant residents.  

Minutes before the item came up for discussion, Austin Interfaith leaders shepherded the signing of this agreement between HVHMRA officers and landlord Scott Roberts.  

Through the establishment of a 'mobile home regime', or framework for landlord-resident relations, this important victory sets an unprecedented standard, ensuring that land use decisions on mobile home parks protect the quality of life for existing residents.  

Mobile Home Community Says Affordability Agreement Will Provide New ProtectionKXAN

Proprietarios de Casas Móviles Celebran VictoriaTelemundo

City Council: Keep 'Em WaitingAustin Chronicle 

Mobile Home Rezoning Wins Praise From All SidesAustin Monitor [pdf]

Mobile Home Park Stokes Hopes and FearsAustin Monitor [pdf]


Special Message from Minister Sandy Jones of Mt. Olive Baptist Church

Dear Readers,

I am Minister Sandy D. Jones from Mount Olive Baptist Church, a member and supporter of Austin Interfaith.  I learned about what Austin Interfaith has been doing for education and child & youth development through the work of volunteers and leaders from congregations all over our growing city.  Our city is a very multicultural city that needs to provide an education that will reach each and all these cultures of children and adults for productive families and lifestyles.  This will bring peace and prosperity for our schools, communities, cities and state as a whole.

I took an interest in this work in thinking about my grandchildren’s education.  I myself was raised in the south, the state of Alabama, during segregation where we as a black race did not have the privileges that others had.  After over 40 years we can still see the same effect of our kids not having the privileges of others because of their race, and their neighborhoods.  

I sincerely believe that child, and youth development programs are necessarily important to our education system in educating our children and parents. We have a very large number of our children being raised by their grandparents, as I myself was, and often the grandparent themselves do not have a high school diploma.  The child & youth developments programs serve to help educate where the grandparents, parents, and single parents do not have the time, due to working long hours and working two jobs in some cases to meet financial needs, or the education to help with homework that they themselves do not understand. It also helps the parent with their own education when they come and sit in and learn with their child in these development programs, helping with homework and reading. The programs help with structure, create habits in studying, reading, and promote self-esteem.  Austin Interfaith makes these things possible.  

It’s a real need I myself had years ago.  If someone would have asked me what was my biggest problem I had about learning, my answer would have been -- then and today -- to have some place and some one to help me with my homework, and reading so I could be the best I could be and to make better choices for my life and future.

The children we support and serve through the child & development programs are our future generation of doctors, lawyers, judges, bankers, city councilmembers, governors, and more.  

We ask you, our general public, to help and support Austin Interfaith with your generous financial donation, so that we may continue to serve the need that is so needed, through continued advocacy for investments in development programs like Primetime, Victory Tutorial Project, Summer Youth Employment and Capital IDEA.

May God Bless You For Your Donations.

Minister Sandy D. Jones

Mount Olive Baptist Church

1800 E. 11th Street

Austin, Texas  78702


Austin Interfaith Celebrates 'Living Budget' with Wage Wins & More

Mayor Steve Adler and Council members Greg Casar, Ann Kitchen and Leslie Pool celebrated the passage of what Austin Interfaith leader Rabbi Alan Freedman called a "living budget" alongside organization leadership the day after it passed.

1509_-_ATX_-_Budget__Celebration_Press_Conference_-_Goudeau.jpgAs a result of much public action and collaboration, the City of Austin will now pay their workers an increased living wage of $13.03 per hour (up from $11.39) and for the first time will include temporary AND contracted workers in that wage standard.  Workers employed for at least 12 months will additionally qualify for healthcare benefits.  (Employees of private corporations receiving public subsidies will also benefit from the wage increase.)

Austin Interfaith furthermore celebrated additional wins in areas impacting workers, children and families:

  • $350K in increased investment to expand access to long-term job training program Capital IDEA by 70 slots,
  • $3 million in added investments in parks, pools and libraries,
  • $684K for AISD parents support specialists,
  • $520K for Primetime after-school programming, and
  • $1.6 Million for property tax breaks for seniors and disabled homeowners. 
Austin Interfaith leaders celebrated the historic living wage win and publicly thanked the Mayor and council members in attendance for their effective work as "budget champions."
[Photo Credit: Ashley Goudeau, KVUE

Setting an Example, Austin Chronicle

Council Wrap Up: Unpacking Council's Brand New Budget, Austin Chronicle

Point Austin: A Living Budget, Austin Chronicle

Lideres de Austin Celebran Aprobacion de Presupuesto, Telemundo

Why Public Health, Social Service Funding Surged in the Austin BudgetAustin American Statesman [pdf]


City Council Approves Trailblazing 14.5% Living Wage Increase & More

Austin, Texas - Austin Interfaith, an organization of 37 congregations, schools, unions and non-profits, plans to celebrate the adoption of a ground-breaking budget at a press conference Friday, Sept. 11th at 12:20pm in the Media Room of City Hall alongside supportive City of Austin Council members.

This year, Councilmembers prioritized workers, families and children in its budget.  Not only did councilmembers  approve an unprecedented living wage increase of 14.5%, from $11.39 to $13.03 per hour, they extended that increase to part-time temporary workers after 80 Austin Interfaith leaders lined up to demand they do so.  Says Bob Batlan of Temple Beth Shalom, "we cautioned the council that limiting the living wage to full time employees, as originally proposed, would  encourage out-sourcing, reduce city authority over its workers and ultimately result in lower wages across the city."  Council heard the call of Austin Interfaith and included contingency workers in the new wage package.  This makes Austin the first city in Texas to extend living wage standards to its part-time, temporary AND contracted workers.

This living wage increase will also apply to private employees of companies receiving taxpayer funded incentives.  Healthcare benefits will additionally be made available for those who have worked for the City at least 12 months.  

Other Austin Interfaith asks that made it in the budget include $350K for long-term job training provided by Capital IDEA, $684K for AISD parent support specialists, half a million for Primetime after-school programming, $357K to continue extended library hours this year, $1.6 Million to increase the tax exemption for seniors and disabled homeowners, funding for healthy food incentives and $1.65 Million added funds for parks, pools and recreational centers.  

Says Wildlflower Church leader Kurt Cadena-Mitchell, "Austin Interfaith applauds those City Council members who were our budget champions.  Mayor Adler, Mayor Pro Tem Tovo, Councilmembers Casar, Garza, Kitchen and Poole found creative ways to fund Austin Interfaith priorities for the benefit of the city as a whole!"  

 Council members Casar, Kitchen and Pool have confirmed their participation today at 12:20pm.    

Austin Interfaith is a non-partisan, multi-ethnic, multi-issue organization of 37 congregations, public schools, and unions who work together to address public issues that affect the well being of families and neighborhoods in our community.



Leaders Continue Push for City Budget Priorities

1508_-_ATX_-_Budget_Hearing_2_-_Alan_Freedman.jpgAustin Interfaith leaders continued the push to shift city budget priorities away from police-dominant public safety to long-term investments in children and workers.  At the second public hearing on the budget, Rabbi Alan Freedman testified that while public safety is "critical to existence...our goal should be to have a city where people can live."  

He was accompanied by other leaders from Austin Interfaith, Seton Healthcare and UT Austin who all urged the council to invest in long-term job training program Capital IDEA.  

[In Photo: Rabbi Alan Freedman]

Unmet Needs: Budget Crunch Time Arrives with Values in Conflict, Austin Chronicle

Organizaciones de Austin Piden Inclusion en Nuevo Presupuesto de Austin, Telemundo

Council Hears Pitches for City's Money, Austin American Statesman [pdf]


AI Leaders Pull No Punches at City Hall

1508_-_ATX_-_KVUE_-_Press_Conference_on_Budget_-_Rev_Jones_-_Goudeau.jpgDenouncing the proposed City of Austin budget for not going far enough to pay its part-time, temporary workers well and to provide essential services to low and middle income families, eighty Austin Interfaith leaders descended on City Hall to urge the Council to prioritize the concerns of residents.  

Councilmembers Delia Garza (2), Gregorio Casar (4), Ann Kitchen (5), Leslie Pool (7), Kathie Tovo (9) and AISD Board president Gina Hinojosa joined Austin Interfaith in an afternoon press conference in support of Austin Interfaith's budget priorities.

Later that night, 12 leaders spoke in support of specific items including a wage increase from $11.39 to $13.03 for all adult city employees - including part-time temporary workers, investment in Capital IDEA training, after-school programming, investments in branch libraries, improved park facilities, public water fountains, affordable housing, and healthy food incentives.

The second and final public hearing is at 11:00am on Thursday, August 27th.  The final vote is scheduled early September.

[Photo Credit: Jim O'Quinn]

Religious Leaders Speak out on City Budget, Time Warner Cable

Night Moves, Austin Chronicle

Minorities, Low Income Residents Top Budget Amendment Requests, Austin Monitor [full text here]

Luckless at Capitol, Wage Advocates Go LocalTexas Tribune



Change Budget Priorities to Promote Economic Equality

In the Austin American Statesman, by Fr. Bill Wack & Rabbi Alan Freedman of Austin Interfaith: 

 When a society – whether local, national or global – is willing to leave a part of itself on the fringes, no political programs or resources spent on law enforcement or surveillance systems can indefinitely guarantee tranquility.” — Pope Francis, Gospel of Joy

The crafting of budgets is an essential activity undertaken by local governments this time of year. These budgets are moral documents — statements of our community values. These are neither left-leaning nor right-leaning values. Where we spend our collective resources reflects what matters most to all residents of Austin and Travis County.

It is troubling that despite the fact that almost three in 10 Austin-area children subsisting below the federal poverty line, and despite the city of Austin having at its disposal more funds this year than last year, no significant new investment is planned to address missing resources to lift children and families out of poverty.

Read more

Austin Interfaith Protects Families from Utility Disconnection

When Austin Energy moved to more quickly cut off electricity from families in arrears Austin Interfaith stepped in to negotiate a better deal for those trying to lower their debt.

The problem began with billing errors.  In 2011 Austin Energy switched to a new, problematic billing system, resulting in billing errors for tens of thousands of families and collection problems for Austin Energy.  Residential utility debt increased from $15.8 million in 2011 to $91 million by May 2015.  With 27 thousand families in active repayment of uncollected bills, 8 thousand of which were already participating in the city’s low-income Customer Assistance Program and exempted from disconnection, Austin Energy targeted the remaining 19 thousand customers for inevitable cut-off.

Austin Interfaith leaders and allies negotiated that only those with over $1,000 in debt be subject to disconnect and that customers with smaller debt be contacted by specially trained Austin Energy representatives who will work with them to resolve the situation without disconnecting them from utilities.

Austin City Council OKs New Rules for utility Customers in the RedAustin American Statesman [pdf]

Austin Energy to Tighten Up CollectionsAustin Monitor [pdf]



AI Launches Jobs Program for High Schoolers

1506_-_ATX_-_AAS_-_Austin_Interfaith_to_Launch_Jobs_Program_with_Three_High_Schools.jpgAustin Interfaith and Austin Independent School District (AISD) jointly announced they will launch a program to train high school students at Travis, Crockett and Lanier how to land and keep a job.  

Modeled off the Summer Youth Employment program, created by Austin Interfaith 20 years ago in partnership with the City and County, this program will teach high schoolers leadership and soft skills like timeliness, and professional conduct with bosses and colleagues.  Another goal is to develop summer internships in 2016  for students who complete the leadership training.  Senator Kirk Watson was in attendance at the press conference at which AI leaders Rev. Robert Elford and Ms. Ofelia Zapata spoke.  

This program launch is happening with the support of AT&T.

[Photo Credit: Julie Change / Austin American Statesman]

Austin Interfaith to Launch Jobs Program at Three High SchoolsAustin American Statesman [pdf]

Austin Interfaith Launches Internship Program for At-Risk High School StudentsCommunity Impact [pdf]

Austin Interfaith, AISD Launch New Leadership Development Program for Crockett, Lanier and Travis High Schools, Austin Independent School District

Austin Interfaith and AT&T Launch a Campaign to Keep At-Risk Students in School, KXAN

Video of Press ConferenceAISD