Austin Interfaith is calling for an organized, coordinated effort to receive a large number of unaccompanied minors. This, they say, shouldn’t be political. For AI strategy team leader Ofelia Zapata, the future of migrant children hits close to home. She sees the face of her own grandchild when she looks at them.
In a presentation to the Travis County Commissioners Austin Interfaith described the arrival of unaccompanied children a humanitarian crisis that requires a thoughtful and proactive response. Specifically leaders are calling on the County to coordinate the use of public buildings to temporarily house children before they are sent to relatives or a foster family and wait for their day in immigration court.
Religious Groups Ask County for Immigration Aid, Time Warner Cable News
Austin Interfaith Urges Travis Officials to Aid Migrant Children, Austin American Statesman
At a Central Health public hearing over how to use UMC Brackenridge when it closes and a replacement teaching hospital opens in 2017, Austin Interfaith leader suggested putting an array of social services on the campus. Services like daytime mental health care of seniors would simultaneously provide caregivers with short-term respite. “It could be a haven of hope for Austin” residents, Zapata said.
Residents Offer Ideas for Using UMC Brackenridge, Austin American Statesman
After Austin Interfaith leaders and allies rallied at AISD to urge school board members to vote in support of federal prevailing wages for bond project construction workers, the AISD votes in support of living wages a little before midnight. Barbara Budde of the Austin Catholic Diocese started off testimony that night with a letter from Bishop Joe Vasquez urging the school board to support the proposal. Leaders of Austin Interfaith member institutions IBEW, Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic Church, Education Austin, LiUNA, Workers Defense Project, Painters Local 1779 and the Equal Justice Center delivered impassioned testimony to the same end.
In the 5-4 vote, trustees Tamala Barksdale, Gina Hinojosa, Jayme Mathias, Ann Teich and Amber Elenz voted for the federal prevailing wages. [Photo Credit: Austin American Statesman]
Austin District Approves Prevailing Wages for Bond Work, Austin American Statesman
The Austin Independent School District Board approved several construction projects last night. That's despite the fact that the workers hired for those projects will be paid based on 2005 standards.
The issue came up at the school board's meeting last month - when trustees talked about adopting a new pay rate study. But so far, that hasn't happened.
Minerva Camarena-Skeith is a member of the non-partisan group Austin Interfaith. She says the old pay rate scale is hurting local families.
"Last month we were glad to hear from this board that we should not be approving construction projects with a price tag with the 2005 labor standards - and that was about $2 million. Yet here we are again today with the consent agenda asking for eight contracts that are over $3 million under those old wage standards."
Trustees said last month they decided to move forward with projects in order to make sure they were complete by the start of next school year.
Projects on the consent agenda last night included moving and renovating portable classrooms and modifying kitchen plumbing systems across the district.
"Kayvon Sabourian, an attorney with the Equal Justice Center and a representative with Austin Interfaith, said he wants the district to move forward with the federal rates because they are readily available and can be adopted immediately, rather than pay 2005 rates to workers for some projects and then paying them a different wage later once the district has updated its pay rates. 'There’s a real concern about spending the bond money using 2005 standards,' Sabourian said. 'Morally, we shouldn’t as a community use taxpayer money to pay people under the prevailing wages of today. We should be paying construction workers what they’re owed: the prevailing wages of today, not 10 years ago.'"
Labor Groups Ask Austin District to Adopt Federal Wage Rates, Austin American Statesman
At a Social Justice Shabbat organized by Temple Beth Shalom, Koreena Malone regaled the crowd with her story of community triumph, a modern day David & Goliath battle between tenants of low-income Oak Creek Village and "lots and lots of lawyers" on the side of the developer. Through conversation between tenants, neighborhood council, the developer, lawyers and the City, an affordable housing convenant addressing all stakeholders' interest was negotiated.
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
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