California IAF Leverages Covid-19 Relief for Undocumented Immigrants Using Old-School Practices on New Technologies
When politics, like most other activities, was forced to migrate online, the IAF didn’t seem an obvious winner. For 80 years, the group has embraced one-on-one conversations and “house meetings” to create organized communities whose strong bonds endure beyond a single campaign. These relationships, forged in person, smoothed the transition to digital organizing.
After the virus hit, a flurry of texts, calls and social media outreach followed as California’s IAF groups scrambled to get their people on Zoom calls. The news was grim: Budgets were tight and layoffs widespread. Undocumented people, often the hardest-hit population, were excluded from most forms of aid. The Cal-EITC push emerged from these digital house meetings. “It came from the lament of the people,” said the Rev. Arturo Corral of Our Lady Queen of Angels / La Placita Catholic Church in Los Angeles, a One LA leader.
In late April, local leaders began gathering Zoom participants from their local networks. Meanwhile, organizers sought out influential lawmakers, focusing on three Budget Committee members: State Assembly members David Chiu and Eloise Gómez Reyes and State Sen. Maria Elena Durazo. All three pledged to work to expand the tax credit.
The IAF groups were “not at all” confident that the tax credit expansion would end up in the governor’s budget. “Most people told us this was not going to happen,” [One LA Lead Organizer Robert] Hoo said. But after weeks of further organizing, it was included in Gov. Newsom’s June 30 budget.
[Photo Credit: Brent Stirton/Getty Images]
After more than 1,200 leaders gathered online, signed petitions and pressed upon state legislators the importance of expanding access to state Earned Income Tax Credit benefits to undocumented taxpayers, California IAF leaders declared a victory for essential workers.
“We commend Governor Newsom and state legislators for investing in families, especially during a deficit year,” said Rabbi Susan Leider with Congregation Kol Shofar, Marin Organizing Committee. “We know they have faced enormous pressure to cut back, and instead they have paid in. This tax credit is not just a one time handout, but will help families year after year. Our leaders have been working for months to make sure our essential workers aren’t left behind, and this is a huge step forward.”
While not a full expansion to all undocumented workers, the tax credit will help tens of thousands of families with at least one child under the age of six who pay their taxes using an ITIN. Some households may receive up to $2,600 each year, depending on their income and family size, a significant investment in some of the most vulnerable families impacted by the pandemic.
Allies also celebrated the victory, including Senator Maria Elena Durazo: “Under the states’ current economic situation, we are happy to be able to expand the Earned Income Tax Credit program for ITIN filing California families.... Thank you to the California IAF members for continuing to push for this inclusion, which United Way sees as a fundamental tool to move families out of poverty. With your continued advocacy, California will move out of this global pandemic, a more united and inclusive state.”
California IAF Declares a Victory for Essential Workers, California IAF
No Relief Here, Voices of Monterey Bay
Immigrant Workers Face Economic Uncertainty During Covid-19 Shutdown, America Magazine [pdf]
Sami Mericle, a representative of the Marin Organizing Committee, thanked the board for acting to further protect vulnerable renters during the health emergency but urged supervisors to “continue to explore ways to keep workers housed for the duration of the public health crisis and the economic recession that is already upon us.”
“An additional month of breathing room will still not be enough time for households who have lost several months of income,” Mericle said. “Even once the shelter-in-place is fully lifted, we expect the demand for jobs such as gardeners, house cleaners and restaurant workers will still be diminished, leaving many people unemployed.”
Marin Supervisors Extend Moratorium On Residential Evictions, Marin Independent Journal [pdf]
Over the objections of commercial landlords, the Marin County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved a resolution on Tuesday granting renters additional time to repay back rent in response to a push by Marin Organizing Committee (MOC) and allies. As a result, residential and commercial tenants in Marin will have 90 days after a countywide moratorium on evictions expires on May 31 to repay back rent, plus added protections.
Said Reverend Tom Gable of Marin Lutheran Church and MOC:
“We are particularly supportive of the new language that prohibits harassment, allows tenants to self-certify their inability to pay, and requires tenants to be notified of their rights before a landlord can take action in court.”
However, leaders continue to push for more. According to MOC leaders, "90 days is an impossible timeline for renters to repay rent they missed during the shelter-in-place order. We risk spawning a second public health crisis if we allow Marin families to be thrown out of their homes as a result.”
Marin Tenants Given Extra 90 Days to Repay Back Rent, Marin Independent Journal [pdf]
Marin Renters Allotted $1M More In Pandemic Aid, Marin Independent Journal
After leaders of Marin Organizing Committee (MOC) called on Marin County Supervisors and every city mayor and councilmember in the county to pass an eviction moratorium, the Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to protect renters affected by the coronavirus emergency.
The ordinance lasts until May 31st and will apply both to unincorporated areas and incorporated cities. Effective immediately, the resolution also stops landlords from charging a late fee for rent that is delayed due to the health crisis -- something MOC fought for until the last minute. The resolution will apply to all tenants regardless of their immigration status.
MOC leaders were the only ones to speak at the hearing, not only pushing for the fee waiver, but also for an extended period of time to repay missed rent. MOC leader Sami Mericle, who lost three of the four jobs she relies on to afford a shared two-bedroom apartment in San Rafael testified in person:
“There is no way I could repay the missed rent by the end of the state of emergency...and I’m not alone.”
MOC leaders are calling the moratorium a "good first step" while noting that the "County has the leeway to alter and extend this resolution as the situation unfolds." Leaders are also calling for homeowner protections from foreclosures.
[Photo Credit: Alan Dep, Marin Independent Journal]
Supervisors Should Help Renters and Approve Bigger Aid Package, Marin Independent Journal [pdf]
Despite community-wide power outages -- and a last minute change in venue -- 700 Marin Organizing Committee leaders assembled at Congregation Rodef Sholom in San Rafael on Sunday, October 27th for their 10th Anniversary Convention.
24 hours before the assembly, leaders learned that the planned location for their Convention would be needed as a local command center to address power outages and host fire evacuees from Sonoma County. Demonstrating flexibility, leaders quickly relocated the assembly to a synagogue down the street. With 99% of the County left without power (in an effort to prevent more fires), MOC demonstrated the power of organized people with the tenacity and resilience to show up against the odds.
Using a generator and portable mic system, leaders from 22 institutions ratified their agenda of issues moving into 2020, reported 75% progress on a $100,000 investment campaign, and celebrated 10 years of citizen power in Marin County. In the midst of anxiety-ridden uncertainty, MOC proved their people can and will show up.
NonPartisan Marin Activist Organization Gathers to Chart Future Course, Marin Independent Journal [pdf]
Marin Voice: MOC Ready to Practice Revolutionary Patience with New Issues Agenda, Marin Independent Journal [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]
After careful agitation by leaders of Marin Organizing Committee, the Marin County Board of Supervisors passed a 'Just Cause for Evictions' Ordinance with a unanimous vote. Leaders [in photo above] filled the County chambers in support of the ordinance which is expected to protect approximately 3,400 renters currently without protection from arbitrary eviction in Marin.
In its coverage of the meeting, and the multi-year fight, Marin Independent Journal called Marin Organizing Committee "the leading voice calling for action to address the housing crisis."
The Just Cause Ordinance was carefully crafted to provide protection to tenants without restricting landlords from acting to remove problem occupants. Evictions are permitted when tenants skip out on rent, breach rental contracts and or pose other problems.
While the ordinance is limited to protecting only tenants in unincorporated Marin, leaders are hopeful that the data collection incorporated in the ordinance will establish important evidence about rental conditions across the County.
Marin Supervisors Improve Renter Protection With 'Just Cause' Ordinance, Marin Independent Journal [pdf]
Marin Supervisors Support 'Just Cause' Rule for Evictions, Marin Independent Journal [pdf]
For the second time in 2018, Marin Organizing Committee leaders stood on the front lines of the fight against astronomical rent increases that put in jeopardy the ability of Canal tenants to afford to stay in their homes. In August, right before the start of the school year, tenants of a different apartment complex received notice of a 40% increase in rent. MOC worked on a political strategy, including a press conference/rally with clergy and school district speakers and meetings with the tenants and public officials, that pressured the landlords into negotiating a better deal for the tenants. . In addition, MOC led the effort to establish, in Marin County territory as a first step, a ‘Just Cause Ordinance' that requires landlords to have a just cause for eviction. While this ordinance does not apply to rental housing in cities, the ordinance does include, for the first time, tracking of landlord activity across all Marin County.
In December, tenants at a second apartment complex in the Canal received notice of a 65% increase in rent to begin on February 1, 2019, as well as some eviction notices. In response, Marin Organizing Committee leaders took matters to San Rafael City Council and asked the City to implement a ‘just cause’ ordinance which would require the landlord to have a justified cause for eviction similar to that approved by the Marin County Board of Supervisors earlier in the fall. Furthermore, MOC leaders urged the City to provide county mediation between landlords and tenants when rent is increased more than 5% a year. At the City Council meeting, Mayor Gary Phillips publicly stated that the city would consider implementing both practices in upcoming months, and directed the City Attorney to research whether the City Council could enact an emergency moratorium on rent increases and evictions in the meantime.
San Rafael Activists Rally Against Canal 65% Rent Hike, Marin Independent Journal
Despite fear of eviction, forty tenants in San Rafael, CA worked with Marin Organizing Committee (MOC) and Marin Legal Aid to fight back against a 40% rent increase that puts most of their families at risk of homelessness or displacement. After a change in ownership, rent was increased by $700 a month with only 60 days notice, from $1,900 to $2,700 by September 1st. Tenant and community leaders argued that the rapid rent hike would leave families homeless and deprive 60 schoolchildren from stability in their home lives and education.
Marin Organizing Committee called upon the landlord to negotiate with the tenants and called upon the City of San Rafael and the County of Marin to put stronger renter protections in place. San Rafael City Mayor Gary Phillips, Marin County Supervisor Dennis Rodoni, and San Rafael School Superintendent Mike Watenpaugh pledged support moving forward. MOC ultimately shepherded a negotiated deal in which the rent increase would be phased in over 16 months (by 2020).
Having successfully advocated for a Mandatory Mediation Ordinance in 2017, MOC is now pushing for passage of a 'Just Cause' Eviction ordinance which would establish a set of criteria for eviction and provide stronger protections for tenants in a County with historically weak recourse for renters. Leaders packed a Marin County Board of Supervisors workshop to support such an ordinance, including clergy, tenants, and apartment owners who testified that such an ordinance would not hurt landlords operating in good faith. The Board decided to move forward, directing County staff to prepare options for consideration at an upcoming meeting.
[Photo Credit: James Cacciatore, Marin Independent Journal]
Marin Supervisors Want to Move Ahead with 'Just Cause' Ordinance, Marin Independent Journal [pdf]
Marin Faith Community Rallies Behind Families Facing Huge Rent Increase, Catholic San Francisco [pdf]
San Rafael Canal Landlords, Tenants Strike Deal on Rent Hikes, Marin Independent Journal [pdf]
George Russell: Troubled Waters in San Rafael's Canal, Marin Independent Journal [jpg]