COPS/Metro Advances Tenant Rights in San Antonio. Landlords Now Required to Inform Tenants of Rights
City council unanimously approved an ordinance Thursday requiring landlords and property managers to provide a document called a “notice of tenant’s rights” to tenants they want to evict, a measure they hope will curb evictions locally during the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond.
The notice informs renters of their rights within the eviction process, provides them a list of resources, including San Antonio’s COVID-19 Emergency Housing Assistance Program, and urges renters and landlords to resolve the dispute through a payment plan before both sides have to appear in court. Landlords who do not comply face a fine up to $500, and can be given multiple citations....
The ordinance has been crafted by housing advocates, including COPS/Metro, and landlord groups, including the San Antonio Apartment Association.
San Antonio Landlords Now Obligated to Inform Tenants of Rights, San Antonio Current [pdf]
COPS/Metro, one of the city's most powerful community organizing groups, vigorously lobbied the council to use the federal dollars to help workers who lost jobs during the pandemic to receive retraining. Under the plan, the city would partner with Workforce Solutions Alamo and Project Quest, allowing residents to access weekly stipends of $450 and services such as childcare.
Council voted 10-1 to approve the plan, saying the training opportunities will allow the city to reshape is low-wage economy and residents to access work with better earnings, benefits and job security.
Debate Over S.A. Stimulus Money a Battle Between Have-Nots, San Antonio Express-News [pdf]
COPS/Metro, a network of grassroots community and religious organizations, wants $200 million of the city’s and county’s stimulus funds to underwrite what it describes as a GI Bill for the working poor. After beefing up the city fund for emergency housing assistance, COPS/Metro is calling for putting jobless workers through school at Alamo Colleges with a stipend.
“It would be a down-payment for the long term,” said Steve Mendoza, a COPS/Metro leader and co-author of an Express-News guest column outlining the proposal. “Tourism is not going to come back right away. And if we continue to focus on tourism, we’re going to get the same” dependence on low-wage jobs.
He added: “When there’s a crisis, there’s an opportunity.”
[Photo By William Luther, San Antonio Express-News]
Jefferson: $270 Milllion In Stimulus Aid Won't Plug Holes In San Antonio Budget, San Antonio Express News [pdf]
While it likely won’t address every need that arises from the economic downturn, [a new City program that provides $25 million in financial relief for San Antonio residents] has been touted as an example of how local government can partly fill a gap for families who don’t qualify for federal aid.
“No strings attached, no citizenship necessary, no documents, no paper necessary. Just residents in San Antonio and economic need,”
said Father Bill Kraus of Our Lady of the Angels Catholic Church.
Kraus worked alongside other COPS/Metro leaders to lobby City Council to increase the fund from $15.8 million to $25 million before it gained final approval. And the organization’s leaders are still working throughout the city to identify potential solutions for immigrant families.
Angelica Reyes, a COPS/Metro leader, parent in Harlandale Independent School District, and immigrant, discovered her own challenges as her school-age children switched to at-home learning. Reyes learned that she didn’t have the basic computer skills needed to help her kids adjust to class on a computer. Reyes and other parents and decided to approach the district for help.
[Photo Credit: Scott Ball, Rivard Report]
With No Federal Aid, Immigrant Families, Students Lean on Local Support, Rivard Report [pdf][pdf]
Commentary: A GI Bill for San Antonio, San Antonio Express-News [pdf]
$25 Million Housing Assistance Fund Offers Relief to San Antonians Affected by COVID-19, Texas Public Radio [pdf]
No Evictions for Now in Bexar County, but Renters' Struggles Likely to Persist, Rivard Report [pdf]
With a 10-1 vote, City Council increased its housing assistance program Thursday by nearly $25 million to help as many as 20,000 families pay rent, utilities, and internet bills and provide cash to purchase groceries, gas, and medicine as they cope with the coronavirus pandemic.
City staff originally proposed a $15.8 million COVID-19 Emergency Housing Program but, at the direction of Councilman Roberto Treviño (D1) and community advocates, the City was able to identify an additional $9.2 million from various city-related accounts.
Linda Davila, housing co-chair for COPS/Metro Alliance, said the program represents a major step toward protecting vulnerable families. However, her the community organizing group's data suggests that 30,000 local residents now teeter on the brink of financial disaster. That puts the total need closer to $70 million.
"We're going to ask the county to match that [$25 million] if they can," said Davila, who represents St. Timothy Catholic Church. "Then we'll have to go after private dollars to fill in the gaps."
COPS/Metro began pushing city leaders two weeks ago to expand the emergency funding. Because local dollars added to the pot come with fewer restrictions, they'll be available to a larger number of local residents, including those without documents.
"We weren't going to let it go," Davila said. "We met with one councilperson after the other. We met with the city manager, the assistant city managers."
San Antonio, Bexar County Boost Housing Assistance 30 Fold, Rivard Report [pdf][pdf]
San Antonio Council Votes for $25 Million Fund to Help Residents with Rent, Food and Medicine, San Antonio Current [pdf][pdf]
City Council Vote on Possibly Adding Millions to Housing Assistance Fund, FOX San Antonio [pdf][pdf]
COPS / Metro focuses on arming residents through community organizing, and [Rev. Frédéric] Mizengo has been handed the baton to continue that legacy.
When Archbishop Gustavo García-Siller shuttered the archdiocese’s churches in mid-March to help stop the spread of COVID-19, Mizengo began live-streaming a daily Mass on the church’s Facebook page.
He used his iPad and invited a group of about 10 people, including readers and singers, to the church’s 450-seat sanctuary. To a great degree, they’ve practiced social distancing.
Mizengo hasn’t been alone in noticing the number of those watching, which has reached 400 at times.
It’s Holy Week, when church attendance normally rises everywhere, but some worshipers from outside of San Antonio have left comments on the parish’s page, too, and have kept tiny heart and thumbs-up icons floating on the page.
The parish already had seen growth, as Mexican and Mexican Americans from throughout the city heard of Mizengo’s preaching style....
[Photo Credit: John Davenport, San Antonio Express-News]
Ayala: This San Antonio Parish Isn’t Holding Mass, but Worshipers Keep Showing Up Online, San Antonio Express-News [pdf]
When Sandra, a member of El Carmen Catholic Church in San Antonio, attempted to join her son at his elementary school for lunch, she was barred from entering the campus due to a district policy that parents present a Texas ID. Sandra does not have -- and cannot obtain -- a Texas ID. When COPS/Metro leaders requested a meeting with the Superintendent to discuss the policy, they were denied.
Soon, 55 COPS/Metro leaders from El Carmen Catholic joined Sandra at the next Southside ISD School Board meeting and stood by her as she directly addressed the board. “I want to be part of his education. I want to be there every step of the way. But the district is not allowing me to do so at this time, and I would like that to change.” COPS/Metro is requesting a change to the policy so that all parents can access their children's schools.
That night, the Board President alerted leaders that the Board would work with COPS/Metro to resolve the issue. Officials from the district also agreed meet with leaders to resolve the issue.
[Photo Credit: Camille Phillips, Texas Public Radio]
San Antonio Parents Without Texas IDs Barred from Southside ISD Schools, Texas Public Radio
Southside ISD's ID Policy Has Some Parents Complaining it Leaves Them Out of Kid's Schooling, San Antonio Express-News
The economic odds facing Avigail Rodriguez a few years ago couldn’t have been much worse. An undocumented immigrant and a single mother, she lived in a cramped apartment in a tough neighborhood in San Antonio and earned just $9 an hour working as a nurse’s assistant.
Today, Ms. Rodriguez, 26, owns her own home in a safer area, earns nearly three times as much as she did before and has secured legal residency. The key to her turnaround was a training program called Project Quest, whose own ability to beat the odds is no less striking than that of Ms. Rodriguez.Project Quest has succeeded where many similar retraining efforts have failed, taking workers lacking in skills and successfully positioning them for jobs where they can earn double or triple what they did previously.
“This really gives employers a chance to find workers they wouldn’t otherwise have considered,” said Lawrence Katz, a labor economist at Harvard University. “At the same time, it provides opportunities to a rather disadvantaged group of workers, both younger and older.”
Project Quest was born 27 years ago in a Hispanic neighborhood in San Antonio where poverty rates are above the citywide average. After the closing of a Levi Strauss factory there, community groups [i.e. COPS/Metro, see comment at right] created Project Quest as a way of preparing workers for better-paying, more highly skilled jobs that were less vulnerable but still in demand.
[Photo Credit: Joanna Kulesza, New York Times]
Job Training Can Save Lives. See How San Antonio Does It., New York Times [pdf]
When Lucia Hernandez (top photo above) was hit from behind by a car speeding through a blind curve, she turned to her parish, Our Lady of Guadalupe Helotes, and COPS/Metro for help. With other leaders, Hernandez organized an assembly of 170 parish and community members to discuss ways to address a blind spot on FM 1560 near her church and Helotes Elementary School. Helotes is a rapidly growing suburban community outside San Antonio.
At the assembly, engineers and officials from the Texas Department of Transportation were confronted by angry parishioners. Declared Hernandez to the team of uncomfortable engineers: “There’s evidence that you’ve made a terrible mistake. Didn’t you study those angles?”
Other parish and community leaders weighed in, agreeing that the curve between FM 1560 and Bandera Road had become deadly due to the construction of a new wall that now obstructed drivers' view, and would only get worse when school started again in the fall.
The Mayor of Helotes and TXDOT Advanced Planning Director pledged to work with the leadership to "refine" the traffic situation, and to meet again within three weeks.
At the follow up meeting, COPS/Metro leaders brought in their State Representative and State Senator who affirmed that funding was available. Put on the spot, TXDOT agreed to set up temporary signs and to meet with church/organizational leaders on a monthly basis until a permanent solution was created.
[Photo Credit: Carlos Javier Sanchez, San Antonio Express News]
Helotes Drivers Want Quick Solution to 'Free For All' Intersection, San Antonio Express-News
Growing up in a San Antonio in which pernicious neglect by an Anglo-controlled "Good Government League" left low-income Mexican-American neighborhoods flooded each year, Andy Sarabia helped transform the political landscape of the city and mentor generations of community leaders. In partnership with Ernesto Cortes, Sarabia not only reshaped the City, he launched COPS/Metro and the modern Industrial Areas Foundation (IAF).
A civil engineer with the Kelly Airforce Base and active at Holy Family Church, Sarabia was first approached by Cortes after a pastor recommended they meet. Standing ankle deep in a front yard pool of water after recent rains, he grew agitated when Cortes asked him whether he liked standing in floodwater. Reflecting on that question, Sarabia decided that he did not like standing in floodwater and went about shifting the racial and class dynamics in San Antonio so that his family and neighbors would not have to stand in floodwater again.
“Andy was quiet and methodical, the master of checklists with an ability to systematically organize,” says Cortes. “He had a natural talent as a negotiator, to make trade-offs, to reach a deal.” Sarabia soon found himself at the epicenter of a seismic shift in local politics as Mexican-American congregations began to band together -- not to march in the streets, but for quiet engagement in parish classrooms and union halls to identify barriers that chafed at the dignity of hard-working families. Through the formation of the broad-based organization Communities Organized for Public Service (COPS), Sarabia worked for the advancement of lower-income families, inducting them into a discipline of careful political research and targeted public action, and thus initiating sweeping structural changes (see Texas Monthly piece from 1977 below). Monied Anglos were fearful of the changes. Others, like bank founder Tom Frost, eventually welcomed them.
As the first president of COPS, Sarabia shaped the culture of the organization. During the 1970s, change was stirring across the nation, and a generation of young people explored local activism, party politics and candidacy for elected office. Sarabia believed in institutional change and regularly spurned invitations to run for office. He created a culture of organizing in which accountability to an institution was required and organizational leadership positions awarded to those that produced results. At the end of his two-year tenure, he continued to remain active from the sidelines -- mentoring new presidents, coaching first-time public speakers, and reminding subsequent generations of the organization's history and traditions.
“The most important thing for people to know is that none of the work was ever about him, it was about the betterment of the community, siempre para la gente,” said Linda Ledesma, Sarabia’s widow. “He was compassionate, he was caring, and he wanted justice, but he went about things his way, quietly.”
Sarabia connected the present to the past -- reminding leaders and public officials alike that it took COPS' power to establish successful programs like nationally-renowned Project Quest and the San Antonio Educational Partnership. The organization he helped establish, now COPS/Metro, has persisted as a powerhouse. This year, the San Antonio Current recognized it as the only community organization on its top ten list of power brokers.
COPS’ success led to the creation of over 30 sister organizations throughout Texas and the West / Southwest US, some of which are approaching 35+ years of age. Andy Sarabia was incredibly adroit with funders, ensuring support for expansion projects in Houston and Dallas through the Catholic Campaign for Human Development (CCHD).
Even in retirement, Sarabia continued to work with COPS/Metro -- writing op-eds and consulting with newer organizers. Weeks ago, from his hospice bed, Andy Sarabia watched the COPS/Metro accountability assembly on a NOWCastSA livestream. As the curtain closed, he called individual leaders, congratulating them on the session and evaluating which of the candidates were most responsive to the organization's concerns. On election day, he marked his ballot from bed, urging others: "Get out the vote. I am with you in heart and spirit." Days later he died surrounded by family and friends.
That is how COPS/Metro leaders remember him: passionate about community and democracy -- and committed to the end.
*** *** ***
Services will be held Monday and Tuesday, May 13-14 at Holy Family Church at 152 Florencia Ave. on the West Side. The 5pm viewing Monday will be followed by a Rosary at 7pm. Funeral Mass will be celebrated at 11am Tuesday, followed by a reception in the parish hall.
The Sarabia Family suggests that in lieu of flowers, a memorial contribution be sent to Holy Family Church (152 Florencia Ave., 78228) and COPS/Metro (1511 Saltillo Street, 78207).
[Credits: Upper right photo from COPS/Metro archives at UTSA; lower left photo by Carlos Javier Sanchez, San Antonio Express-News; other images provided by COPS/Metro. Quotes by Cortes and Ledesma first published by the Rivard Report.]
Andy Sarabia, COPS’ First President, Dies at 79, Rivard Report [pdf]
Editorial Board: A Man Who Gave Voice to Voiceless, San Antonio Express News [pdf]
Andy Sarabia, 79, Fought for San Antonio's Forsaken and Forgotten, San Antonio Express-News [pdf]
The Second Battle of the Alamo, Texas Monthly (1977)
COPS Takes on City Hall, Texas Observer (1976)