After three and a half years working to cap "sky-high" fees that Nebraska payday lenders charge, Omaha Together One Community (OTOC) won a landslide victory (83% to 17%) for statewide Initiative 428, reducing maximum interest rates on payday loans from 387% to 36%.
Nebraskans Vote to Cap Interest Rates on Payday Loans, NPR Marketplace Morning Report
Four months into the pandemic, OTOC leaders recognized that housing instability was a serious public health issue. Eviction court had been open since the moratorium issued by Governor Ricketts on evictions expired at the end of May, and even federally-funded housing project tenants would become vulnerable again at the end of July.
OTOC leaders conducted research and found that prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, a startling 47% of renters in Douglas County were rent-burdened, meaning that they spend over 30% of their monthly income on rent. With 46,557 new initial claims for unemployment in Douglas County filed between 3/21-6/13, OTOC argued that there were more rent burdened residents than ever. A new report on evictions in Omaha clearly demonstrated how minority and low-income neighborhoods in North and South Omaha became hotspots both for COVID-19 infections and evictions.
OTOC worked with the County Commissioners to develop a rental assistance program for those who have been hit especially hard during this pandemic. The Douglas County Board of Commissioners responded July 14th with a finalized plan that allocated $10 million of the $166 million of Douglas County’s CARES Act funds for rental assistance. Influential in this decision was the engagement of leaders from Omaha Together One Community (OTOC) who met with many of the Commissioners to discuss the imminent threat of COVID-19 related evictions and how CARES Act funds could help keep impacted families in their homes.
Said OTOC leader and member of Augustana Lutheran Church, Gloria Austerberry:
"Under normal circumstances, evictions are detrimental for families. In the context of the pandemic, evictions hurt the whole community by removing the ability to practice social isolation safely in their homes...
Preventing them whenever possible protects children especially, and all the institutions like education, social services, and health care that serve them. We are pleased that the Commissioners have prioritized keeping people in their homes and are doing their part to keep our County healthy and safe.”
[Photo Credit: Brendan Sullivan, World-Herald]
Midland Voices: Rental Challenges Are Enormous. Counry Board Can Help Greatly, Omaha World-Herald [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.
Eleven months after leveraging enough votes across the state to expand Medicaid in Nebraska, state legislators have manufactured delays and complications hindering its implementation. In response, OTOC leaders and allies traveled to the Capitol to call on legislators to "honor the vote" and fulfill the will of Nebraskan voters.
At a press conference outside, OTOC leader Dr. Carol LaCroix, a family physician, questioned why the governor’s administration was erecting barriers to care and significantly delaying implementation of expansion. In the hearing itself, OTOC leader Mary Spurgeon (photo above) itemized the harm done by failing to expand Medicaid for the seventh year, pointing out that the altering of the law, passed as Initiative 427, constituted a failure by the governor and legislators to carry out constitutional duties.
Following the hearing, OTOC leaders delivered copies of their testimony to the governor and senators. Leaders are now urging constituents to contact their senators on this issue.
OTOC Leaders Testify Against Delays and Complications of Medicaid, Omaha Together One Community
In an effort to stand with immigrants, Nebraska Lutheran Bishop Brian Maas, Catholic Archdiocese Chancellor Rev. Tim McNeill, and College of St. Mary President Maryanne Stevens joined Omaha Together Organized Communities (OTOC) in a column calling on Congress for an 18-month extension of 'Temporary Protective Status (TPS).'
TPS allows immigrants and refugees like OTOC leader and 20-year resident Wilfredo Rivera (featured in photo above) to avoid deportation. This issue affects 400,000 immigrants nationally, not including their children.Read more
After working for the last 6 years to increase City funding to demolish 800 condemned buildings in Omaha, Omaha Together One Community (OTOC) testified in favor of $1.1 Million included in the proposed 2018 City budget for demolition of condemned structures, up from just $250,000 in 2012 when OTOC started pushing for increases. As a result, the backlog of abandoned houses has been brought down from over 750 to less than 125.Read more
Leaders also engaged candidates for the Omaha Public Power District (OPPD) to secure commitments to work with the organization to move more quickly towards clean energy sources.Read more
OTOC Challenges Proposed Utility Rate Increase After Fighting Blight and Increasing Rental Housing Inspections
On the dignified housing front, Omaha Together One Community (OTOC) not only succeeded in tripling the budget for demolition of blighted properties between 2012 and 2015, it persuaded the City Council to increase housing re-inspection fees levied on neglectful property owners, sufficient to increase the number of trained rental housing inspectors in the field to nine. In a move against slumlords who abandon their properties, OTOC compelled the Council to pass a vacant property registration ordinance requiring owners to pay $500 for every quarter a house lies vacant (up to $2,000 / year). OTOC succeeded over the opposition of the Landlord's and Nebraska Bankers associations.Read more
Pictured at right is the team of OTOC leaders that pushed the Board to revise its energy plan. Articles below quote OTOC leader Laurie Gift and OTOC ally Rev. Eric Elnes.Read more