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.
Leveraging $25,000 for long-term job training, Corridor Interfaith leaders from Living Word Lutheran and San Marcos Unitarian Universalism succeeded in persuading Hays County Commissioners to invest local dollars into Capital IDEA. Once matched with state ACE funding, the investment will allow 7-10 Hays County students to train out of poverty and into middle-class careers.
Leaders met with their Hays County representatives over several months to educate them about Capital IDEA and to advocate for the inclusion of funding in the 2020 budget. At the final budget hearing at the commissioners' court, the request was quickly moved forward and approved!
Over 100 East Austin congregational members and officers packed the house at Holy Cross Catholic for Austin Interfaith's Community Policing Civic Academy. The event was jointly hosted by leaders from Holy Cross, Ebenezer Baptist, Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic and Mount Olive Baptist Churches.
In this session, congregational leaders told stories, shared a brief history of community policing and broke out into small groups for conversations rooted in local experience.
Sister Christine Stephens, CDP entered eternal life on July 18, 2019 at the age of 78. She was the younger of two daughters born to Walter Irving and Frances Louise (Bulian) Stephens. She was born December 22, 1940 in Austin, Texas and was given the Baptismal name, Mary Christine. She entered the Congregation of Divine Providence on September 7, 1962 and professed first vows as a Sister of Divine Providence on June 22, 1964. Sister Christine graduated from the University of St. Thomas in Houston, Texas with a Bachelor of Arts in Economics prior to entering Our Lady of the Lake Convent. She later earned a Master of Arts in History from St. Mary’s University in San Antonio, Texas.
Sister Christine attributes her faith formation to her parents who set the example of perseverance and seeking justice for one’s family and community. Her father was a member of the pipe fitters union. This foundation served Sister Christine in her first seven years as a teacher, then as a social worker for eight years, and expanded and deepened when she became an organizer 45 years ago.
Sister Christine did not choose organizing as a ministry, it chose her. She was spotted by her now close friend and mentor, Ernesto Cortés, Jr., who said it was her anger that caught his attention. That was the first time she viewed her anger in a positive light. The work of justice was at the heart of her ministry and her life. Her work with the Industrial Areas Foundation (IAF) was the vehicle to funnel her anger against injustice.
Sister Christine’s commitment to identifying, training and transforming leaders and organizers throughout the country worked to bring millions of dollars for water and waste water to the colonias along the Texas/New Mexico Border, instrumental in developing the Alliance School strategy that impacted hundreds of schools across the country, plus the creation of nationally renowned job training programs modeled after Project QUEST in San Antonio.
Her advocacy work during the past four decades in her various roles, as National IAF Co-Director and Supervisor of organizations across the IAF Network will be greatly missed. Her organizing career began with The Metropolitan Organization (TMO) in Houston where she was a founder, followed by Lead Organizer of C.O.P.S. in San Antonio and Dallas Area Interfaith.
She enjoyed seeing ordinary leaders who worked across multi faith traditions, economic lines and race to do extraordinary things in their communities. She breathed and lived the Gospel values of justice and leaves a legacy to be continued. She had an enduring faith in the values of democracy.
She is survived by her sister Sarah Howell, and all her Sisters of Divine Providence. She is also survived by her niece Angela Duhon (William), their children, Emma and Nathaniel. She was preceded in death by her parents Walter and Frances Stephens.
[Photo Credit: Nuri Vallbona, National Catholic Reporter - Global Sisters Report]
Christine Stephens Worked to 'Help Others Advocate for Themselves,' Austin American Statesman [pdf]
Austin Interfaith Commends Mayor and Council for Reforming Ordinances That Negatively Impacted People Experiencing Homelessness
Austin Interfaith commends the Mayor and City Council for addressing the negative impact of ordinances that criminalize many of the everyday activities people experiencing homelessness need to do to get by. Austin Interfaith clergy and leaders have long expressed concern about the precarious conditions experienced by people facing homelessness. During the elections last fall, at our accountability session, Austin Interfaith leaders called on the mayor and City Council to change these ordinances.
Passing the proposals last night is a significant step towards achieving that goal.
[Photo from footage by CBS Austin]
On Thursday, June 6th, Central Texas Interfaith (CTI) and Capital IDEA leaders successfully protected a $319,000 increase in workforce funding the Mayor and City Council committed to this past summer. In response to the Texas Legislature passing legislation this session that places a future 3.5% cap on property tax increases, a move was made to reevaluate and potentially reverse this $319,000 investment and other budget items that were set for approval yesterday.
CTI and Capital IDEA leaders mobilized to call and write their council members while Rabbi Alan Freedman, of Temple Beth Shalom and Co-Chair of the CTI Clergy Caucus, explained to the Mayor and Council how even a short delay could postpone and jeopardize the recruitment and enrollment of 50 new students.
When a motion was made to delay the Capital IDEA funding, it did not receive a second. Council Member Alison Alter made a counter motion to immediately award the funding for Capital IDEA, and it received unanimous support. Kudos to all the Council Members who supported this funding, and to Rabbi Freedman, CTI leader and Capital IDEA Board Member Joy Penticuff, and Capital IDEA Executive Director Steve Jackobs, and all the CTI leaders who worked on this intensively in less than a 24 hour period!
Click links below for videos about two Capital IDEA graduates:
Spanish-speaking Catholic leaders from 12 parishes across the Austin Catholic Diocese participated in Central Texas Interfaith “Recognizing the Stranger” training today on a rainy Saturday at Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic Church.
The follow up session was conducted in partnership with the Austin Catholic Diocese and Catholic Charities.
Central Texas Interfaith Leaders Push for Restoration of ACE Funding and, with Texas IAF, Advance EDAP Legislation for Economically Distressed Areas
One month after 300 Texas IAF leaders descended on the Capitol to call for investments in human development, delegations have been visiting the Capitol daily to engage legislators around school finance, the ACE fund, payday lending and infrastructure support for economically distressed areas. In photos above are Central Texas Interfaith leaders from the Congregational Church of Austin, Wildflower Church (including Reverend Brian Ferguson), Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic, and Capital IDEA.
Legislative allies in the Rio Grande Valley and El Paso crafted a proposed constitutional amendment providing for the issuance of bonds by the Texas Water Development Board for projects in economically distressed areas. The proposal is almost to the finish line.
With ACE funding already in the draft budget, leaders are working to restore it to its original $10 Million. When economist Marc Elliot from Economic Mobility delivered a presentation on the effectiveness of the Project QUEST job training model at the Capitol, representatives from over a dozen legislative offices attended.
The QUEST model is hailed as the hitting on a "formula with a proven track record" and Texas IAF organizations across the state have applied it in across the state, including in Austin through Capital IDEA .
Texas ACE Fund Return on Investment, Texas IAF
Nine Year Gains: Project Quest's Continuing Impact, Economic Mobility
San Antonio Program Moves Low-Skilled into Middle Class, Houston Chronicle [pdf]