Rev. John Elford, senior pastor at University United Methodist, and David Guarino, of All Saints Episcopal, point out the effects of state action on homelessness in Austin.
This Thanksgiving, most of us will sit down with our loved ones for a feast in a cozy home. Outside, hundreds of our neighbors experiencing homelessness in Austin will be scrambling for a place to escape from the elements, both literal and political.
We of Austin’s faith community have frequent contact with our unsheltered neighbors, and they have taught us a great deal. They have shown that too many of us are just one or two paychecks and a run of bad luck away from the same fate. Our homeless neighbors have also taught us that we have a shared humanity that transcends circumstances.
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....
[Photo Credit: Jay Janner, Austin American Statesman]
Commentary: This Holiday, Let's Focus on Hope for Homeless, Austin American Statesman [pdf]
Credited by the Marin Independent Journal for being "instrumental in convincing Marin County, San Rafael, and Fairfax to adopt renter protections" (including mandatory mediation and just cause for evictions), Marin Organizing Committee leaders are taking the fight to the City of Novato. At a press conference in front of City Hall, low-income senior leaders of a 128-unit Novato apartment called on the City to monitor the situation and support low-income tenants.
Over the last 16 years, residents have faced 13 rent increases -- the most recent of which being 15%. Resident leader Sharon Wagner-Higgins says that similar to other residents, she has to choose between her medications and affording rent. If nothing changes, she says, "I'm going to end up on the street."
“It makes no sense to tie the rents to the area median income in a place like Marin that has high income disparity,” says Marin Organizing Committee leader Judith Bloomberg. “These are people living on fixed incomes. They shouldn’t be punished because some workers in Mill Valley and Ross are making half-a-million each year.”
Leaders testified at City Hall to ask the Council to help ensure that the landlord keep their promise to meet with residents and negotiate in a good fair. Said tenants association leader John Geoghegan, “You folks have helped us in the past and we hope we can continue to count on your help in the future to ensure Novato remains age friendly for seniors.”
[Photo Credit: Alan Dep, Marin Independent Journal]
Low-Income Novato Seniors Rally Over Rent Hikes, Marin Independent Journal [pdf]
There's a fight in federal court over the Omaha rental registry which was supposed to go into effect January 1st. Negotiated carefully with extensive input from Omaha Together One Community (OTOC) and local landlords, the registry would allow City inspectors to review a property, even those without a filed complaint, as one step to stop slumlords from taking advantage of tenants.
The registry was negotiated months after 500 refugees were forced out of apartments with 2,000+ code violations. Months before it was set to go into effect, the Metro Omaha Property Owners Association filed a suit against it.
OTOC leaders are now publicly challenging landlords to work with the community to ensure dignified housing for all Omahan residents.
With standing room only, 300 delegates from One LA member and guest institutions convened on Sunday, July 21, 2019 at Temple Emanuel in Beverly Hills to set an ambitious agenda for 2020.
"Our 2020 vision is a roadmap to building power," said Nancy Goldstone, Co-Chair of the assembly and member of Temple Beth Am. "I don't need to tell you that it will be a watershed year, nationally and locally. While many will be focusing on the presidential election, half of LA city council and half of LAUSD board members are up for election, and we have a major contest in LA County Supervisor's District 2. That is where decisions are made that affect us daily."
Teams of leaders from across LA County shared stories about what is at stake around One LA's four issue campaigns: immigration, housing, human trafficking and mental health. "We need our state senators, county supervisors and city council members to do more to protect immigrants," shared Yadira Mireles, on the immigration team at San Gabriel Mission. "People need lawyers. They need good information. People coming out of detention need shelter and services. We can't just be a sanctuary city in name only. We want elected officials who will work with us so that Los Angeles will truly be a place that welcomes immigrants."
State Senator Holly Mitchell and City Attorney Mike Feuer joined the assembly and reacted to One LA's vision for building power. When asked if she would join One LA leaders in a listening campaign on mental health issues, Senator Mitchell rose to the challenge and offered to co-host a session. City Attorney Feuer laid out specific ways his office would work with One LA on all four issue campaigns, encouraging leaders to contact his office directly in cases of immigration fraud, intelligence on human traffickers, and housing fraud.
One LA leaders then caucused by region on specific strategies to build more power ahead of the 2020 elections, including broadening and expanding their constituencies through recruiting other institutions, and raising more hard money to hire and train organizers. "Hard money is our favorite kind of money," said Janet Hirsch of Temple Isaiah. "It is money that we control, and that lets us set our agenda on our own terms and our own time." Leaders pledged $200,000 in hard money commitments for 2020.
Before adjourning, leaders unanimously ratified a proposal to organize candidates forums and conduct a robust Get out the Vote Campaign ahead of the 2020 elections.
Money Matters: A Reflection, by Diane Vanette, leader of One LA and Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills
Responding to dual threats of deportation and homelessness faced by low-income immigrants, Marin Organizing Committee (MOC) launched a careful campaign to explore how to protect tenants. The campaign culminated in a major victory this week, with leaders persuading the San Rafael City Council to not only mandate mediation between tenants and landlords when rent increases exceed 5% per year, but also to implement 'just cause' for eviction standards. San Rafael is the county seat of Marin County, one of the most expensive places to live in California, and home to 70% of Marin County renters.
Landlords and representatives from the California Apartment Association appeared in force to testify in opposition, but MOC leaders had been laying the groundwork for two years. In response to pressure from MOC leaders in 2017, the Marin Board of Supervisors unanimously voted to support a mandatory mediation program for renters, which would apply only to unincorporated areas of the County (about 8,300 renters). In 2018, the Marin Board of Supervisors passed a 'just cause' for eviction ordinance protecting tenants from sudden eviction -- again, only in unincorporated areas of Marin County. Beyond negotiating for these protections, MOC shepherded a deal between Canal neighborhood tenants and a landlord who had initially imposed a 45% rent hike over 2 months, successfully increasing the time frame to 16 months.
In response to passage of the ordinances, leader Meredith Parnell declared, "MOC is pleased that the San Rafael City Council is moving forward with these small steps to protect renters...we look forward to working with the city to ensure there is a well-resourced and multilingual community education and outreach campaign to explain these new ordinances to landlords and tenants alike.”
[Photo Credit: Adrian Rodriguez, Marin Independent Journal (top); Marin Environmental Housing Collaborative (bottom)]
San Rafael City Council Approves Renter Protections, Marin Independent Journal [pdf]
Marin Voice: Protecting San Rafael Tenants Helps Prevent Homelessness, Marin Independent Journal [pdf]
Marin Supervisors Improve Renter Protection With 'Just Cause' Ordinance, Marin Independent Journal [pdf] (2018)
San Rafael Canal Area Landlords, Tenants Strike Deal on Rent Hikes, Marin Independent Journal (2018)
MOC Wins Significant Step on Renter Protection, West / Southwest IAF (2017)
Citing a statewide affordable housing crisis, Nevadans for the Common Good threw their political weight behind a proposed tax credit program (recommended by an interim state legislative committee) as the most significant and winnable step forward to improve access to affordable housing. Leaders succeeded in pushing the bill, expected to create 2,400 affordable units over 4 years, through the state legislature. The new program is designed to encourage private housing developers to build affordable housing for low-income households, and will provide developers $10 Million per year in tax credits to do so.
NCG leaders laid the groundwork for this legislative change with a listening campaign and nine months of research actions in 2018. They organized nonpartisan accountability assemblies (photos above), secured the Governor's commitment to support this legislation, and included a call to support this legislation in their postcard campaign. Leaders furthermore testified at the legislature and met with individual legislators to remind them of their commitments.
NCG recognize that this action alone will not solve the Nevada housing crisis, but are celebrating this as an important step in the right direction.
Nevada's Affordable Housing Crisis, Nevadans for the Common Good
Against Major Odds, Nevadans for the Common Good Pushes Payday Lending Reforms through the State Legislature
During a three-month house meeting listening campaign and nine months of research actions and civic academies, leaders from 'Nevadans for the Common Good' (NCG) unearthed dramatic stories about payday lending entrapment, lack of housing affordability and concerns around public education.
In response last fall, NCG organized nonpartisan accountability sessions with gubernatorial candidates, including now-Governor Sisolak, in which leaders secured candidate commitments around school funding, affordable housing, and consumer protections from unlawful payday lending practices
In 2019, NCG launched a campaign generating 4,000 postcards calling on state legislators for $500 million in new state funding for public schools, and $40 million for an affordable housing tax credit program and improved payday lending enforcement across the state. NCG leaders incited an impassioned fight with the payday lending industry over Senate Bill 201, which would establish a payday lending database to track short-term, high-interest loans to better protect consumers.
In the face of formidable odds -- and an army of paid lobbyists -- NCG mobilized waves of faith and civic leaders to testify before key committees to make the case for better protections for financially vulnerable families. In March, ten leaders met with 17 legislators in one day. In April, fifty leaders filled a hearing room in support of reforms. The following month, to distinguish themselves from paid lobbyists, 50 more leaders donned white at an Assembly Commerce and Labor Committee hearing. In response to one leader's testimony about the impact of predatory lending practices, an assembly member responded, "We are tired of waiting for something to be done to protect our families and communities!"
NCG leaders succeeded in pushing Senate Bill 201 through the Senate and Assembly. The bill is now headed for Governor Sisolak's desk to be signed.
Oped: Payday Lending Measures are Common Sense for the Common Good, Nevada Independent
Payday Lending Opponents, Industry Clash in Charged Hearing Over Loan Database, Nevada Independent
At a news conference outside City Hall, One LA and a coalition of tenant advocates pressed the city to move forward with a 'right to counsel' ordinance, calling on Mayor Eric Garcetti to allocate $10 million to assist tenants in his upcoming budget.
"We have a humanitarian crisis in our city in regards to homelessness and housing," said Fr. David Matz of St. Agnes Catholic Church. "In the last ten years we have lost one thousand families from our parish due to these issues. Many of our elderly are forced out of their apartments and left homeless."
Every year, close to 30,000 people in Los Angeles face evictions. The money from the city would go not only to legal aid, but also to education and prevention, outreach and emergency payments to help keep struggling renters in their homes. The price tag of $10 million would fund the first year of a multi-year timeline to phase it in.
"One LA has worked alongside Mayor Garcetti on the passing of proposition HHH and the linkage fee," continued Fr. Matz. "Now the LA Right to Counsel Coalition is presenting this strategy to address one of the biggest root problems of homelessness-- evictions. We know that Mayor Garcetti is working diligently so we ask him for his support for the "Right to Counsel" and to fully fund it."
Inquilinos Solicitan Ley Que Los Proteja del Desalojo, Estrella News (Video en Español)
In advance of a vote that may occur as early as April 2nd, OTOC and the Apartment Owners Association of Nebraska (AAN) intered into negotiation about areas of agreement to jointly present to the City Council and Mayor. The AAN represents the owners of half the rental properties in Omaha.
The invitation to negotiate occurred after 40 tenants, landlords, community organizations, social service organizations, pastors organized by OTOC spoke in favor of reform at a four-hour city council hearing on March 12 (in photo above). OTOC leaders Karen McElroy, Rosie Volkmer, Gloria Austerberry, Dennis Walsh, Susan Kuhlman and Paul Romero laid out a comprehensive narrative that covered the history of substandard property rentals in the city, the failures of the current complaint-based system and the extensive research in support of rental inspection programs. At the request of City Council members, OTOC submitted recommendations of what ought to be amendments to the Mayor's proposed ordinance.
OTOC leaders urge supporters to continue to pressure their elected representatives to support a system of landlord registration with proactive inspections to ensure that all people have access to healthy homes.
200 leaders of COPS/Metro, accompanied by Catholic Archbishop Gustavo García-Siller, descended upon San Antonio City Council chambers with a simple message delivered by Maria Tijerina: "We don't want a study. We want action."
A study on displacement in San Antonio was scheduled to begin in 2020, but COPS/Metro leaders are calling for immediate action to prevent the direct and indirect displacement of neighbors. Said García-Siller, “They have lived simply, and with pride, in their homes, which have belonged in their families for decades.” He noted that the city gives incentives — tax rebates and fee waivers — to developers while homeowners who improve their own homes see their taxes rise.
Tijerina argued that rather than conduct a study on the root causes of displacement, the city should consider COPS/Metro’s own recommendations (detailed in a recently published oped) which include increasing owner-occupied rehabilitation in vulnerable neighborhoods; a city-coordinated homestead exemption and property tax freeze and deferrals for residents older than 65; tax abatements for homeowners and land preservation for affordable housing.
Immediately at stake was a $1 Million fund to help displaced and vulnerable residents. After its unanimously passage, COPS/Metro leaders called it "a good start."
COPS/Metro leaders plan to engage Mayor Ron Nirenberg on further displacement prevention at an accountability session April 7th.
[Top Photo Credit: Ben Olivo, San Antonio Heron; Bottom Photo Credit: Iris Dimmick, Rivard Report]
San Antonio Nearing $1 Million Policy for Low-Income Families Facing Rising Housing Costs, Eviction, San Antonio Express-News
City Considers Fast-Tracking Housing Displacement Prevention Policy, Rivard Report [pdf]