Amidst Deliberation Over $14.7M Taxpayer Subsidy for Tesla, Central TX Interfaith Calls for Living Wages
[Excerpts from Community Impact & Austin Monitor]
Travis County commissioners continue to consider a plan to offer electric automaker Tesla millions of dollars in economic incentives to build a factory in eastern Travis County, but with no date yet announced for a decision on the matter. If approved, Tesla could receive nearly $14.7 million in property tax rebates across 10 years with additional rebates in the 10 years following.
At the commissioners' June 30 meeting, Travis County community members again phoned in to voice support and concern regarding the proposed incentives. Several speakers encouraged the county to leverage for greater worker wage and protection commitments.
"We are skeptical. Numerous studies have shown that local governments rarely if ever receive benefits commensurate with what incentives cost, and, despite what they say, businesses rarely if ever give incentives much weight when deciding where to locate," said [Rev.] Michael
Floyd, who spoke on behalf of Central Texas Interfaith....
Floyd...pointed out that even at the average wage cited by Tesla, a family of three would still qualify for Travis County Rental Assistance. Currently, people earning 150 to 250 percent of the federal poverty income guidelines, or $31,580 to $54,300, qualify to receive rental assistance from the county due to an expansion in eligibility requirements resulting from Covid-19.
[Photo Credit: Courtesy Tesla via Community Impact]
County Development Incentive for Tesla Sees More Support, Austin Monitor [pdf]
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]
Exceeding their turnout goal by 50%, more than 1,500 leaders from Texas IAF organizations assembled online and in (socially distanced) watch parties to launch a Get Out The Vote drive, pledging to deliver 200,000 voters this fall to support a nonpartisan agenda for change.
Declared the Rev. Dr. Rhenel Johnson, pastor of Abundant Life United Methodist Church and leader with TMO: "Here today are the prophets like Moses who are called to set the people free. Set them free from slave jobs, set them free from not having access to mental health for our adult and children, set them free from police brutality and set them free from inequality! The Texas IAF network is ready to take to the streets and sign up voters to our agenda of issues and March them to the polls starting October 19 for early voting through election day on November 3rd."
Bishops, clergy, lay leaders, and community leaders from 10 Texas IAF organizations ratified an agenda that includes COVID-19 recovery, workforce development, healthcare access, immigration, and police reform. Speakers included: Catholic Archbishop Gustavo Garcia-Siller (Archdiocese of San Antonio), Auxiliary Bishop Gregory Kelly (Diocese of Dallas), Rabbi Alan Freedman (Temple Beth Shalom in Austin), Danielle Alan of Harvard University, Paul Osterman of MIT, Luke Bretherton of Duke University, Charles Sabel of the Economic Policy Institute, and Teresa Ghilarducci and Richard McGahey of the Schwartz Center for Economic Policy Analysis.
Similar statewide “Sign Up-Take Charge/Get Out The Vote” campaigns by the Network of Texas IAF Organizations have netted over $2 Billion in infrastructure funding for colonias along the border, tens of millions for workforce development for living wage jobs, over $50 Million for public school parent training and staff development, expansion of CHIP and Medicaid at the state level, and living wage measures in cities, counties, and school districts across the state.
Over the past three months Texas IAF organizations have focused on COVID-19 recovery, leveraging over $250,000,000 in rental/utility assistance and $100,000,000 in workforce development at the city and county levels, in addition to statewide and local moratoriums for utility cutoffs and evictions.
“We've won hundreds of millions in immediate COVID-19 economic relief, our organizations are now focusing on longer term workforce and economy recovery strategies brought about by the pandemic,” said Rev. Minerva Camarena-Skeith, a leader with St. Michael’s Episcopal and Central Texas Interfaith. “This includes long-term training for in-demand living wage jobs, reducing underlying health care disparities, and education investments like internet connectivity for students from low-income communities to bridge the digital divide.”
Leaders pledged to identify 5,700 leaders in house meetings and small group gatherings this summer and prepare them to each deliver 36 voters to the polls this fall.
1. Changing the present culture within police departments from a culture of intimidation and punitive responses to one of community policing which focuses on developing relationships within the community.
2. Raising the hiring standards of police to increase the degree of professionalism.
3. Effective and rapid implementation by the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement of their recent decision to require all Texas police officers to learn how implicit bias can affect their actions.
4. Require the introduction of programs in all police departments to provide for the ongoing mental health wellness and care for the mental health needs of officers.
5. The elimination of qualified immunity that shields law enforcement officers from being sued for their discretionary actions.
6. The establishment of Independent Police Auditors with subpoena power in municipalities to independently investigate allegations of police misconduct.
7. Timely and effective investigation of all police shootings, allegations of excessive force and in-custody deaths by the Harris County District Attorney Civil Rights Division and prosecution of all officers where it is warranted.
[Photo credit: Godofredo A. Vásquez, Houston Chronicle]
Eleven Southeast Texas Faith Leaders from Jefferson County signed a letter on May 19, 2020 and sent it to Governor Abbott, Jefferson County Commissioners Court, Beaumont City Council and Port Author City Council, asking the Cities and County to create a coronavirus relief fund at their level of government to address COVID-19 housing concerns and to advocate for funding an behalf of the most vulnerable to the coronavirus.
In response to this, and public testimony by key religious leadership, the City of Beaumont designated $1.2 Million towards pandemic relief.
[Photo credit: Fran Ruchalski, Beaumont Enterprise]
Beaumont Has $1.2 Million to Ease Virus' Economic Hardships, Beaumont Enterprise [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]
On the heels of leveraging $10 Million in housing assistance from Travis County, Central Texas Interfaith leaders called on the City of Austin to provide at least $40 Milllion in rental assistance for economically distressed families in the COVID-19 crisis. On Thursday, June 4, the Austin City Council unanimously responded.
Central Texas Interfaith commends the Mayor, Austin City Council and City Manager for approving a COVID spending framework that includes nearly $24 million new dollars for the RENT Program plus $12 million new dollars for the RISE Program for direct income support.
That, combined with other additional new sources, puts the City of Austin well over the $40 million dollars in new rental assistance that Central Texas Interfaith has called for. It also includes tens of millions more in financial support for those in need. We look forward to working with the City of Austin and other organizations on implementation of these programs and beginning to look at our longer term economic recovery and workforce strategies.
Group to Austin Leaders: Give $40 Million Cut From Coronavirus Funds to Renters, Austin American Statesman [pdf]
Austin Allocating Far Less in Rental Assistance During COVID-19 Crisis Compared to Other Texas Cities, KVUE (Pre-conference) [video] [pdf]
Travis County Approves $10M for Direct Rental and Mortgage Assistance, Austin Monitor [pdf]
Housing Committee Talks Scaling Rental Assistance Program, Austin Monitor [pdf]
Claudia Cruz, whose primary language is Spanish, said Dallas Area Interfaith— a coalition of Dallas religious congregations, schools and nonprofits — has been her main source of information since the COVID-19 pandemic began because “it’s the most accessible,” Cruz said.
“Our only source of information has been through DAI and through the people in our community,” Cruz said.
"We have to be informed because we are the most vulnerable," [Maria] Ramirez explains.
The information Ramirez has gotten throughout the pandemic has mostly been through her own efforts seeking it out and through the community groups she was already involved with. Ramirez's church sends out information to congregants, as does The Metropolitan Organization of Houston, a local nonprofit of which she is a member.
On a balmy day at the St. Bernard of Clairvaux Catholic Church in East Dallas, parishioners working with the nonprofit Dallas Area Interfaith talked among themselves about problems they faced as they passed out food to a long line of needy people.
Rosa Garcia said she was already helping family cope with the deaths of two family members in Dallas when her husband found out two more relatives had died in Florida. “For immigrants, it is harder. We have to struggle three times harder,” Garcia said.
Nearby, a small woman named Cecilia with a white face mask set below bloodshot eyes took a break. She said she didn’t sleep much because rats and bugs have infested her apartment, and she must be on guard that they don’t bite her children at night.
Cecilia lives on a janitor’s wages. She asked that her surname not be published because she is undocumented and fears she’d lose her job. She can’t pay her rent and the landlord says it will be an extra $300 if she wants to change apartments....
[Photo Credit: Ben Torres, Special Contributor, Dallas Morning News]
Valley Interfaith Fights for Expansion of Housing Relief, Hidalgo Starts with $7.5M in Rent and Mortgage Support
Eddie Anaya, a member of Valley Interfaith, asked commissioners during the public comment section of the meeting to consider raising the program’s funding to $25 million.
“In just over three months, as of May 18, 2020, the Texas Workforce Commission reported 25,667 residents in Hidalgo County lost their job and filed for unemployment,” Anaya said. “Then there’s the other countless taxpayers and residents from Hidalgo County who are ineligible for unemployment, insurance or CARES Act benefits. Valley Interfaith is proposing that you help these families through a renter’s assistance program.”
Joe Hinojosa, a Valley Interfaith leader from Holy Spirit Church in McAllen, said the pandemic has been “incredibly painful” and noted that nearly 40% of Hidalgo County residents are uninsured.
Through the nonprofit, he also urged commissioners to increase funding for the Indigent Health Program. They are currently investing $6.1 million, Hinojosa said, urging them to increase it to $15.3 million, or 8% of the county’s total budget. Hinojosa also suggested commissioners loosen that program’s restrictions and allow families that are at 100% or below the federal poverty line to apply for healthcare assistance, as opposed to the current cutoff at 30%.
[Photo credit: Joel Martinez, The Monitor]
Hidalgo Co. Starts $7.5M Rent, Mortgage Relief Program, The Monitor [pdf]