"When COVID-19 came to California, the California organizations of the Industrial Areas Foundation, the nation’s largest and longest-standing network of local faith and community-based organizations, immediately sprang into action. They began organizing virtual meetings at the local level — hundreds of community members gathering every week primarily to share how they were doing....
In the summer of 2021, the California IAF organized an action. Six hundred leaders from over 100 parishes and community-based institutions gathered together virtually to call on the state to extend its eviction moratorium and reform its housing relief program....
The organizing work of the California IAF around housing has revealed two truths that should be held in tension with one another. First, government must do more to address the housing crisis. Public policy and investment are necessary to make housing more affordable.
But, second, government can often be disconnected with how things are working in communities. Effective government depends on the local expertise contained by those who are seeking a decent home. Solving the housing crisis in California hinges on the involvement of our parishes continuously working to ensure that government intervention matches the local needs of our people."
[In Photo: Bishop Oscar Cantú of the Diocese of San Jose. Photo Credit: Tyler Osburn, CNS]
Last Sunday, One LA-IAF leaders from Clínica Msr. Oscar A. Romero and La Placita Church worked together to enroll over 115 low-income residents into healthcare programs including My Health LA and Med-Cal. Many of these undocumented seniors will now have access to healthcare services in Los Angeles County for the first time.
My Health LA is a program that was created with the support of One LA-IAF to allow low-income and undocumented immigrants to access health services in Los Angeles County.
After two weeks of intensive mobilizing by COPA (Communities Organized for relational Power in Action), leaders secured a nine-month, $1.59M extension of the VIDA community health worker (CHW) program in Monterey County. The 4-1 vote by the County Board of Supervisors extended the VIDA program at current levels to the end of 2022, preventing a reduction from 48 to 18 CHWs by the end of the month.
Prior to the vote, COPA leaders met with their district supervisors, telling stories about the impact of VIDA and asking that they support the extension.
At an online event drawing over 100 leaders, two County Supervisors and allies including the Community Foundation of Monterey County and the Grape Growers & Vintners Association, leaders taught attendees about the effectiveness of the program.
Fr. Lucas, a priest from King City, shared how he narrowly avoided infecting 200 parishioners at a weekend retreat because Maricela Acevedo, one of the CHWs, and a member of his parish persuaded him to test everyone prior. When one of the women on the kitchen crew was found to be positive, Maricela went to her house to test other family members.
Another woman, who speaks only Mixteco (an indigenous language in Mexico) got her questions about the vaccines answered only because one of the CHWs, Claudia, speaks both Mixteco and Spanish. Claudia not only helped the woman register for a vaccination appointment, she came to the house when called weeks later to administer rapid tests and help infected family members quarantine.
COPA first proposed the VIDA program to the Monterey County Supervisors, who voted unanimously in December of 2020 to allocate $4.9M to hire 100 CHWs. VIDA is administered by the Community Foundation of Monterey County.
[Photo Credit: Daniel Dreifuss, Monterey Weekly]
Local Organizations Seek County Support to Extend VIDA Community Health Worker Program, Monterey County Weekly [pdf]
One LA brought together over 115 parish leaders from across Los Angeles County to learn to heal the worst effects of the pandemic through conversation and broad-based action. The Most Reverend David O'Connell of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles joined One LA's Recognizing the Stranger training and addressed the leaders and encouraged them in the development of a relational culture.
The training was sponsored by the Catholic Campaign for Human Development, One-LA, and Organizers Institute.
COPA Key Partner in Distribution of $6.75 Million in Rental Assistance to Low-Income Families in Monterey County
COPA (Communities Organized for Relational Power in Action) has been a key community partner in distributing $2.75 million of Emergency Rental Assistance Program (ERAP) funds in 2021, and will help distribute an additional $4 million in 2022.
Hartnell College Foundation received the ERAP funds from Monterey County United Way in 2021, and partnered with the COPA and Mujeres in Accíon to reach those in greatest need. COPA worked with member congregations to identify families who, due to reduced income due to COVID-19, are struggling to cover rent or utilities. COPA leaders guide them through the application process for emergency rent and utility assistance.
[Photo: Tere Simancas and Luis Arreguín help people fill out housing assistance applications outside Our Lady of Refuge in Castroville, CA. Credit: Adriana Molina, Voices of Monterey Bay]
Marin Organizing Committee (MOC) has for several years worked toward developing permanent housing solutions for unsheltered people. That goal was advanced Tuesday, as the Marin County Board of Supervisors unanimously voted to accept a state "Project Homekey" grant and move forward with a site in an abandoned nursing home, creating permanent supportive housing for 43 people.
Hundreds of leaders from MOC member institutions signed and shared the petition in support of the project, wrote letters to the Board, and spoke at the Board meeting both in person and over Zoom. While the project faced significant opposition, MOC demonstrated to elected officials that MOC leaders support and believe in this project.
[In photo: Former nursing home to be converted into permanent, supportive housing. Credit: Shary LaVars, Marin Independent Journal]
Marin Voice: In Support of ‘Housing First,’ Supervisors Should Push for Larkspur Homekey Site, Marin Independent Journal [pdf]
One LA Leaders Persuade City Planning Commission to Reject Demolition of Affordable Housing Near Temple
One LA leaders from Temple Beth Am played an important role in the Los Angeles Planning Commission's decision to reject a redevelopment project that would have eliminated 12 units of affordable housing in the Pico-Robertson neighborhood, a desert for subsidized housing units. The proposed plan would have resulted in the demolition of 6 commercial properties and 12 units of rent stabilized housing to construct a 7-story hotel in their place.
Temple Beth Am leaders from One LA have been working with city officials to mitigate the loss of precious affordable housing. While not opposed to the redevelopment of the area, they expressed concerns about losing housing in a neighborhood where the local city council district office had confirmed that it did not have any housing units that could benefit from the city’s linkage fee program.
Nancy Goldstone, a leader with One LA and resident of Pico-Robertson said,
“This hotel project was going to eliminate affordable housing in an area where there is very little to none.
As a One LA leader it was important for me and our team to organize and have conversations with city officials to let them know that this project did not serve the interests or general good of the neighborhood.”
City Planning Commission Rejects Pico-Robertson Hotel Development, Urbanize Los Angeles
After engaging over 350 Watsonville residents in conversation about public safety and the quality of interactions with police, COPA leaders presented their findings to the Watsonville City Council. Their findings, rooted in the experiences of hundreds of people from diverse walks of life and ages, were quickly integrated into an official report by an ad hoc committee on Policing and Social Equity.
COPA pointed out that policing and safety are not necessarily equivalent terms, and that systemic investments in mental health, youth and family programming, and budget alignments in city and police spending would go a long way towards making Watsonville safer -- particularly for youth of color.
Prior to the pandemic, over 100 COPA-IAF leaders had convened with the Watsonville Police Department Chief and Santa Cruz County Supervisor to address identified concerns about engagements between police and community. Soon after, the City responded with an invitation to participate in an ad-hoc committee on Policing and Social Equity. But COPA leaders first wanted to include more residents in the discussion, and with the support of the Catholic Campaign for Human Development (CCHD), COPA engaged hundreds more residents in substantive conversations about direct experiences with Watsonville police and what restorative justice can look like.
COPA's reported findings have so far been met with a positive reception by Watsonville elected officials. Leaders plan to persist in their efforts as the City identifies a new Chief for the Watsonville Police Department.
[Photo Credits: (top) Tarmo Hannula, Good Times; (middle) courtesy of COPA]
Watsonville Committee Calls for more Police Accountability, Santa Cruz Local
City of Watsonville Report, Watsonville Ad Hoc Committee on Policing and Social Equity
Report on Police Reforms Filed by Watsonville City Council, Santa Cruz Sentinel [pdf]
Wrapping Up My Term as Mayor, The Pajaronian [12/2020]
A Deep Look into the Watsonville Police Department, The Pajaronian [08/2020]
Watsonville Police Oversight Committee in the Works, The Pajaronian [07/2020]
Watsonville, Santa Cruz to Start Police Reform Committees, Santa Cruz Local [07/2020]
New Committees Address police Reform in Watsonville, Santa Cruz County, Santa Cruz Local [02/2021]
COPA, which stands for Communities Organized for Relational Power in Action, held meetings with its different core teams at different locations throughout California and paid attention to the voices demanding help. As a result, rental assistance regulations were modified to include people living in rooms and garages whether or not they had a lease. Once [COPA] learned this great news, [they] immediately started to plan a way to get this assistance to the people in our town....
Every Wednesday for the last month, members of COPA Castroville have been gathering outside Our Lady of Refuge Catholic church for a noble cause. They are helping community members apply for the rental assistance program authorized by the U.S. government that provides relief for the economic struggles families have experienced because of COVID-19….
Once Congress approved legislation to provide economic stimulus for families, some organizations like COPA organized community members demanding an eviction moratorium and the allocation of federal funds to help families struggling to pay rent. The problem for Castroville, and other small rural communities in the area, is that rental assistance was approved only for tenants with formal leases. And when it comes to Castroville, the picture of rentals is completely different.
[Photo Credit: Voices of Monterey Bay, Adriana Molina]
Helping families in Distress, COPA Assists Castroville Residents Applying for Rent Relief, Voices of Monterey Bay [pdf]
Over a year after losing their jobs to pandemic-related causes, Elizabeth remains unemployed, and her husband, a landscaper, is only able to get work once a week. Elizabeth says she knows that her family, theoretically, qualifies for the Covid-19 rent relief: they are below 80% of the Area Median Income and experienced financial hardships due to the pandemic.
But Elizabeth says she can’t afford to rely on theoretical assistance. With a family of five, including a 1 year-old, her primary concern is staying housed—even if it means cutting back on other essentials to pay rent.
“I have cut back on food, my internet, PG&E,” she says.
Elizabeth first heard about the Covid-19 rent relief program at a local food bank. It was there that she met a leader from Communities Organized for relational Power in Action (COPA), a faith-based nonprofit addressing issues like affordable housing. The COPA leader told her about the eviction moratorium and Senate Bill 91—now updated as Assembly Bill 832....
The updated bill attempts to correct the gaps that excluded certain renters from the first round of applications. For instance, the new bill allows tenants with informal leases to qualify, requires either the tenant or the landlord to apply (the former bill required both parties to apply) and distributes $250,000 to Community Bridges to help facilitate in-person assistance and outreach —a critical component given the application must be submitted online.
COPA advocated for these changes and more, like 100% of back-rent forgiveness, up to three months of future rent, assistance with utility arrears and tenant records during the pandemic to be “masked,” or hidden, which are now included in the updated bill.
“Of course there’s still some obstacles, but I think what we have now is much better than what we saw initially,” says COPA organizer Mayra Bernabe.
But even though some obstacles were removed, their impact lingers, Bernabe says. “I know some of our families have mistrust for our government programs, because of the way they’ve been rolled out before,” she says.
[Photo: COPA leader Raymond Cancino, Executive Director of Community Bridges attests to hurdles in the process. Credit: Tarmo Hannula, Good Times]