Central Texas Interfaith & Allies Call on State and Local Governments to Beat December Deadline for Coronavirus Rental Relief
Before the pandemic, Maria Ramirez (in photo above) and her husband made more than enough money to afford their two-bedroom apartment in Dallas. Now, they owe $4,000+ in back rent and late fees. When they applied for local aid, they were denied.
"For four months, millions of these funds have wafted around the corridors of City Hall while each day vulnerable families are threatened with evictions," said Jon Lee, a retired pastor of King of Glory Lutheran Church and leader with Dallas Area Interfaith.
Texas IAF leaders across the state are working with local elected officials to spend down millions in assistance dollars that they leveraged earlier this year. Onerous online application processes and excessive documentation requirements hampered access to available assistance for the most vulnerable. Warned Rev. Michael Floyd of Central Texas Interfaith, "Families who lost employment are racking up months of unpaid rent and as eviction moratoriums end, they will be forced out of their homes."
Texas IAF leaders and allies are also calling on the Governor to draw down available funding for rental assistance for smaller cities. If not spent by the end of the year, unspent dollars will have to be returned to the US Treasury.
Says Rev. Jaqueline Hailey, of TMO, “The CDC order create[d] a welcomed pause in evictions in this area, but it is only a half-measure because all rents and late fees will continue to pile up and be due when the moratorium expires on December 31.”
[Photo Credit: Vernon Bryant/Dallas Morning News]
Thousands Evicted in Houston Area Before Eviction Moratorium, Rental Assistance, Texas Catholic Herald [pdf]
TMO Call[s] on Leaders to Halt Evictions, Congress to Pass Next Stimulus Bill, Houston Chronicle [pdf]
"Talarico also might have gotten a boost from efforts from Central Texas Interfaith, a network of churches, synagogues and other religious organizations that held its own non-partisan get-out-the-vote campaign.
The group targeted voting precincts with historically low voter turnout and church presence with a phone campaign aimed at individuals the organization identified as low propensity voters. By the end of early voting, they saw marked increases in 16 of the 17 precincts they targeted across the Austin area. Those included Williamson County precincts in Talarico’s district as well as State Rep. John Bucy III’s district. Bucy, D-Austin, also won re-election Tuesday.
Rev. Miles R. Brandon II, of St. Julian of Norwich Episcopal Church in Round Rock, said many of the people they contacted found it refreshing that they were being asked only to vote and weren’t being sold a particular candidate or political party.
“We don’t talk to people about candidates, but we talk to them about issues,” Brandon said. “I think, we don’t get hung up as much because we don’t represent a party or candidate.”
Of the nearly 18,000 people contacted, about 9,500 of them ended up casting a vote by the end of early voting, according to Central Texas Interfaith. Several candidates on the ballot who worked with the network of congregations, including Talarico, Bucy and State Rep. Vikki Goodwin, won their respective races."
Suburban Swing: Once Reliably Red, Williamson Voters Back Both Biden, Cornyn, Austin American Statesman
Increasing participation in the political process is at the heart of Bastrop Interfaith’s mission as Election Day approaches.
A nonpartisan, multi-issue organization, Bastrop Interfaith is part of a larger organization called Central Texas Interfaith, which works to address public issues that affect members of different communities.
Made up of community institutions like churches, neighborhood associations and public school groups, Bastrop Interfaith pulls together community members to address common issues.
A large part of this effort, according to Edie Clark, a Bastrop County resident and leader with Bastrop Interfaith, is developing leaders within local communities so people have the skills and opportunities to engage with public officials about salient topics.
This year, that means informing as many county residents as possible about the issues at hand for the election, and where different local and state candidates stand on them.
[County Map Courtesy of Bastrop County]
Bastrop County Nonprofit Works to Increase Voter Participation in Low Turnout Area, Austin American Statesman [pdf]
While labor rights activists support Tesla’s stated commitment to a minimum wage of $15 an hour, substantially above Austin’s $7.25, the agreement sheds no light on which workers this standard applies to. The average hourly rate for manufacturing jobs in the U.S. is $22.
“The fear is that a company like Tesla keeps its high-level creative jobs in places like the Bay Area and begins to see Austin like a low-wage, high-tech town,”
said Doug Greco, lead organizer of Central Texas Interfaith, representing a coalition of nonprofit groups in Austin.
[Photo Credit: Cyber Truck: Tesla; Map: Lasagnaforone / Getty]
Central Texas Interfaith & Austin Apartment Association Call for $100 Billion in Emergency Rental Relief
After distributing $1.2 million in May, the City of Austin’s Neighborhood Housing and Community Development Department announced Tuesday $17.75 million will be available to help renters in the second round of the Relief of Emergency Needs for Tenants (RENT) Program.
The city will use a lottery system to pick funding recipients, so for people like Carlota Garcia with Central Texas Interfaith, the worry is about those who won’t get picked.
“No longer are we able to borrow from friends or borrow from family, savings accounts have been pillaged, there is no cushion left for people,” she said. “This moment has the potential to become disastrous.”
She said the state and the federal government should create a plan that gets those in need help beyond the next six months.
“In order for us to be able to prevent families from falling into starvation, or worse, we really need to have the federal government step up, as well as the statewide government..."
[Photo: Footage by KXAN]
Joint Statment on Emergency Rental Relief, Central Texas Interfaith & Austin Apartment Association
Amidst Deliberation Over $14.7M in Taxpayer Dollars to Tesla, Central TX Interfaith Calls for Living Wages
[Excerpts from Community Impact & Austin Monitor]
Travis County commissioners continue to consider a plan to offer electric automaker Tesla millions of dollars in economic incentives to build a factory in eastern Travis County, but with no date yet announced for a decision on the matter. If approved, Tesla could receive nearly $14.7 million in property tax rebates across 10 years with additional rebates in the 10 years following.
At the commissioners' June 30 meeting, Travis County community members again phoned in to voice support and concern regarding the proposed incentives. Several speakers encouraged the county to leverage for greater worker wage and protection commitments.
"We are skeptical. Numerous studies have shown that local governments rarely if ever receive benefits commensurate with what incentives cost, and, despite what they say, businesses rarely if ever give incentives much weight when deciding where to locate," said [Rev.] Michael
Floyd, who spoke on behalf of Central Texas Interfaith....
Floyd...pointed out that even at the average wage cited by Tesla, a family of three would still qualify for Travis County Rental Assistance. Currently, people earning 150 to 250 percent of the federal poverty income guidelines, or $31,580 to $54,300, qualify to receive rental assistance from the county due to an expansion in eligibility requirements resulting from Covid-19.
[Photo Credit: Courtesy Tesla via Community Impact]
County Development Incentive for Tesla Sees More Support, Austin Monitor [pdf]
Exceeding their turnout goal by 50%, more than 1,500 leaders from Texas IAF organizations assembled online and in (socially distanced) watch parties to launch a Get Out The Vote drive, pledging to deliver 200,000 voters this fall to support a nonpartisan agenda for change.
Declared the Rev. Dr. Rhenel Johnson, pastor of Abundant Life United Methodist Church and leader with TMO: "Here today are the prophets like Moses who are called to set the people free. Set them free from slave jobs, set them free from not having access to mental health for our adult and children, set them free from police brutality and set them free from inequality! The Texas IAF network is ready to take to the streets and sign up voters to our agenda of issues and March them to the polls starting October 19 for early voting through election day on November 3rd."
Bishops, clergy, lay leaders, and community leaders from 10 Texas IAF organizations ratified an agenda that includes COVID-19 recovery, workforce development, healthcare access, immigration, and police reform. Speakers included: Catholic Archbishop Gustavo Garcia-Siller (Archdiocese of San Antonio), Auxiliary Bishop Gregory Kelly (Diocese of Dallas), Rabbi Alan Freedman (Temple Beth Shalom in Austin), Danielle Alan of Harvard University, Paul Osterman of MIT, Luke Bretherton of Duke University, Charles Sabel of the Economic Policy Institute, and Teresa Ghilarducci and Richard McGahey of the Schwartz Center for Economic Policy Analysis.
Similar statewide “Sign Up-Take Charge/Get Out The Vote” campaigns by the Network of Texas IAF Organizations have netted over $2 Billion in infrastructure funding for colonias along the border, tens of millions for workforce development for living wage jobs, over $50 Million for public school parent training and staff development, expansion of CHIP and Medicaid at the state level, and living wage measures in cities, counties, and school districts across the state.
Over the past three months Texas IAF organizations have focused on COVID-19 recovery, leveraging over $250,000,000 in rental/utility assistance and $100,000,000 in workforce development at the city and county levels, in addition to statewide and local moratoriums for utility cutoffs and evictions.
“We've won hundreds of millions in immediate COVID-19 economic relief, our organizations are now focusing on longer term workforce and economy recovery strategies brought about by the pandemic,” said Rev. Minerva Camarena-Skeith, a leader with St. Michael’s Episcopal and Central Texas Interfaith. “This includes long-term training for in-demand living wage jobs, reducing underlying health care disparities, and education investments like internet connectivity for students from low-income communities to bridge the digital divide.”
Leaders pledged to identify 5,700 leaders in house meetings and small group gatherings this summer and prepare them to each deliver 36 voters to the polls this fall.
According to scripture scholar Walter Brueggemann in his essay “Blessed are the History-Makers,” our religious traditions teach us that the real history-makers are not kings, presidents, or those with means of violence that seek to control and harm others, or to silence questions of power. He calls those people the history-stoppers. History-MAKERS are the outsiders, the marginalized, those carrying on the prophetic tradition with “a bold conviction about an alternative possibility that goes under the name of hope”. In scripture, God allies himself with marginalized peoples to create history.
The killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis exposed again the twin evils of racism and violence and their effects on those systematically denied human dignity in our country. The President holding up a sacred text while having peaceful protestors dispersed with rubber bullets and tear gas is alarming. That Austin Police used tear gas and similar “less lethal” weapons on unarmed protestors in Austin, leaving at least one in critical condition, is unacceptable. “Less-lethal” weapons can still be lethal.
But as Brueggemann says, the bet of our biblical faith is that God is “allied with marginal people to create newness”: with protestors in Austin and across the country who peacefully but passionately say "enough is enough;" with Brenda Ramos, whose unarmed son Michael was killed by police in Austin, and who courageously stood before cameras calling for change in our Police Department and for non-violence in demonstrations; with the clergy of Washington DC’s St. John’s Episcopal Church who quickly denounced the President’s photo-op in front of their church; with the Washington D.C. Catholic Archbishop, an African-American man who similarly denounced a visit by the President to a Catholic shrine the next day; and with a coalition of Austin justice groups, who a few days before the President had White House security drive away protesters for his own photo-op, had cancelled their own rally, their own chance to speak before the public and the press, in order to protect the lives of their members.
This week Central Texas Interfaith is discussing these issues in our meetings with leaders in law enforcement, police oversight, and several Central Texas County Judges. CTI fully supports the mission of the Office of Police Oversight to provide impartial accountability of the Austin Police Department. We are also committed to continue working with APD and communities across Austin through our Community Policing Initiative to create opportunities for residents and police officers to engage in a constructive dialogue and build relationships which hopefully can help prevent the escalation of routine encounters into violent confrontations. And we will engage with Council Members and allied organizations to explore concrete ways to undo racism and address the long-term effects of systematic discrimination.
Austin, like most Southern cities, has a deep history of systemic and institutionalized racism towards African-Americans, as well as other people of color. We understand that these forces run much deeper than law enforcement, and pervade ALL of our institutions, from government, to civic, religious, and educational institutions. While Central Texas Interfaith will listen to all sides, in the end we will stand with the African-American community, all communities of color, and the most marginalized who are boldly leading this moment. African-American Theologian Howard Thurman, whose thought had a profound influence on Dr. King and the nonviolent philosophy of the Civil Rights Movement, hoped for the very courage we are witnessing at this time: “Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive and go do it. Because what the world needs are people who have come alive.” Central Texas Interfaith will stand with the history-makers and those who have come alive.
On the heels of leveraging $10 Million in housing assistance from Travis County, 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. On Thursday, June 4, the Austin City Council unanimously responded.
Central Texas Interfaith commends the Mayor, Austin City Council and City Manager for approving a COVID spending framework that includes nearly $24 million new dollars for the RENT Program plus $12 million new dollars for the RISE Program for direct income support.
That, combined with other additional new sources, puts the City of Austin well over the $40 million dollars in new rental assistance that Central Texas Interfaith has called for. It also includes tens of millions more in financial support for those in need. We look forward to working with the City of Austin and other organizations on implementation of these programs and beginning to look at our longer term economic recovery and workforce strategies.
Group to Austin Leaders: Give $40 Million Cut From Coronavirus Funds to Renters, Austin American Statesman [pdf]
Austin Allocating Far Less in Rental Assistance During COVID-19 Crisis Compared to Other Texas Cities, KVUE (Pre-conference) [video] [pdf]
Travis County Approves $10M for Direct Rental and Mortgage Assistance, Austin Monitor [pdf]
Housing Committee Talks Scaling Rental Assistance Program, Austin Monitor [pdf]