In a 3-2 vote at a special meeting, the Fort Bend County Commissioners Court passed a budget for how to spend $134.3 million in federal funds from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act.
TMO-Fort Bend clergy and judicatory leaders from Baptist, Methodist, Catholic, Lutheran and Islamic congregations testified at multiple hearings, including Rev. John Strader of Heritage Baptist Church who called on the county "consider its faith leaders and organizations as a resource to help....[we'll] help with seeing the true issues of our county to be addressed by the CARES Act funds." As a result, 6,500 Fort Bend families will receive $1,500/mo for rent, utility and food assistance.
"Rev. David Lee Sincere Jr. with Fort Bend Transformation Church, Advocacy Now Institute and The Metropolitan Organization was one of several county residents and officials who spoke at Commissioners Court about the need for rental, mortgage and utility assistance. He said he has received a number of phone calls, emails and stories from residents who require help."
Leaders are also calling on the county to "enact a countywide rent moratorium that would help those directly affected by...this emergency.”
[Photo Credit: Screenshot via Fort Bend County]
Fort Bend County OKs Budget For Distributing $134M CARES Act Funds, Community Impact [pdf]
George Joins Others In Asking State To Extend Eviction Moratorium, Fort Bend Herald [pdf]
Fort Bend County To Host Workshop On Distributing $134M In CARES Act Funds, Community Impact [pdf]
Fort Bend County Launches $19.5M Rental Assistance Program June 1, Community Impact[pdf]
Seven [commissioners], plus the one Mayor Turner spoke to, said they plan to postpone eviction hearings until June. That’s great news to Mesias Pedroza, a leader with The Metropolitan Organization (TMO), who today was helping to pack meals for families with meals.
“Just right now we’re preparing for service giving food supplies to families and they come and say ‘hey we need help with rent. We can not pay for rent. We don’t have a job. What are we going to do? Where are we going to go?” Pedroza said.
As of Wednesday, there were 1,286 evictions pending in Harris County. Since March 18, 1,591 have been filed, according to data collected by January Advisers.
On Tuesday, TMO sent a letter to Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo asking her to extend the moratorium on evictions which expired May 19. Judge Hidalgo has said that’s not in her power but she and county commissioners have allocated $30 million to help struggling families with relief.
“At TMO we believe they have the legal basis to do so because other counties have done so,” Pedroza countered. “There is ample discretion because the Texas Supreme Court they have said eviction orders may resume it doesn’t say that it shall resume.
[Photo Credit: KPRC Click 2 Houston]
Houston Mayor’s Tweet Sparks Optimism to Families Facing Evictions, Click 2 Houston [pdf]
Editorial: What Houston must do to avoid eviction disaster Houston Chronicle [pdf]
HOUSTON — The $15 million meant to help Houstonians pay rent is already gone. The money dried up in less than 90 minutes....
The Metropolitan Organization was hosting two application clinics this morning to help families without internet access apply. Large crowds waited in line starting at 5 a.m. Because of the issues with the site many families weren't able to apply before it was shut down.
"They designed a system to give away $15 million quickly and yes it was a success they gave away $15 million, but did it get to the people with the greatest need, I question that," said Joe Higgs, Executive Director of TMO.
As many as 30,000 tried to access the website, an indication of the need for rent relief in the wake of COVID-19, which has led to business shutdowns and skyrocketing unemployment. Housing advocates have said the money does not go far enough in helping renters.
Houston's $15 Million Rental Assistance Program Fills Up In 90 Minutes, Houston Chronicle
Houston's $15 Million In Rent Assistance Runs Out In Just Two Hours, Click To Houston [pdf]
Update: City of Houston approves $15 Million in rental assistance for people affected by the coronavirus.
The Metropolitan Organization of Houston says 70,000 families won’t be able to make rent, and it’s why they are calling on Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner to act.
10,000 of families will be homeless. I (implore) you, answer the call again, sound the alarm again, leave no one behind,”
said Minister Jaqueline Hailey [in screenshot above] of Greater New Hope Baptist Church and member of the TMO, during a virtual press conference.
TMO members say with 57% of Houston households as renters, a crisis could be on its way...
Group Calls on Mayor to Increase Fund to Help Houstonians Pay Rent to $100M, Click2Houston (KPRC)
Low-income families, residents in the country illegally, victims of domestic violence and children aging out of foster care are the target audience for a $15 million coronavirus relief fund Harris County Commissioners Court created Tuesday.
The fund, proposed by Precinct 1 Commissioner Rodney Ellis, aims to assist residents who are ineligible for federal aid through the CARES Act or for whom the $1,200 stimulus payments are insufficient.
Minister Jacqueline Hailey of the New Hope Baptist Church [which is a member of TMO] said housing is a particular area of need, as Friday marks the second time rent will come due since the pandemic reached the Houston area in March.
“There are 70,000 Houston renters who were unable to pay their rent last month, and there will be even more in May,” Hailey said.
[Photo Credit: Jon Shapley, Houston Chronicle]
Rev. Carissa Baldwin-McGinnis of Northside Episcopal Church said church groups are seeing a lot of children across Houston experiencing trauma — and even grief — as normalcy and friendships are lost because of COVID-19 and all the events that have come before it.
Baldwin-McGinnis is an executive committee member for The Metropolitan Organization, a nonprofit that brings faith-based groups together to influence policymakers’ decisions. The organization is currently working to raise awareness for the food and housing needs low-income and minority communities are facing during the pandemic.
“We know that the nervous system of children gets extra triggered when there are multiple experiences of complex trauma,” Baldwin-McGinnis said. “If they’ve had losses in the past, they’re less able to regulate their emotions, they have higher levels of anxiety … (and) you can get all kinds of crazy behavior including higher aggression.&rdquo
[Photo by Brett Coomer, Houston Chronicle]
The suspension of rent, and the forgiveness of any debts related to its non-payment, is a profoundly biblical idea. We find it in the Hebrew Bible, in Leviticus 25:8-55, God gave Moses extensive laws that are to govern the “year of jubilee,” a period when all debts were forgiven, and property was to be widely redistributed throughout the community. In Deuteronomy 15:1 we encounter a text that reads, “Every seventh year you shall practice remission of debts."
The CARES Act provides for mortgage forbearance for federally backed mortgages. Homeowners and landlords can forego payments to their lenders for up to twelve months. The payments are to be tacked onto the end of the loan without penalty. This relief will prevent millions of homeowners and landlords from losing their homes and rental properties through foreclosure during this health emergency. To avoid a massive foreclosure crisis, mortgage lenders must embrace their key role and facilitate forbearance for homeowners and landlords.
[But] the CARES Act provides no similar relief to renters. Businesses are eligible for rent relief in the form of grants and loans. Families are only offered a delay in the eviction process and protection from landlords charging them fees or penalties for non-payment of rent. This means that if they fail to pay rent throughout the pandemic then they will face eviction as soon as it is over.
The CARES Act does create a Coronavirus Relief Fund to allow cities and counties to respond to their urgent needs. Harris County will receive over $800 million from this fund. At least $100 million should be used for rental assistance and other resources needed by families who will not receive funds from the CARES Act.
Suspending rent throughout the course of the pandemic would guarantee housing security for renters. At the end of the pandemic, renters should not owe their landlords anything for missed rent payments or face retribution for non-payment of rent....
[Photo by Melissa Philip, Houston Chronicle]
Bible Teachings Counsel Us to Suspend Rent During Coronavirus Pandemic, Houston Chronicle [pdf]
As clergy working with The Metropolitan Organization, we are doing all we can to prevent sickness and death from COVID-19. We believe we must also prevent injury and death from firearms during this time of crisis and in the future by adopting these strategies:
• Mayor Sylvester Turner and Houston City Council must develop a safe gun storage campaign, as recommended by the Mayor’s Commission Against Gun Violence.
• Harris County constables must develop a campaign to widely distribute free gun locks to everyone who needs to secure their guns.
• Gov. Greg Abbott and the state of Texas must quickly take advantage of new federal legislation to provide enhanced unemployment insurance benefits to all who have lost their income due to COVID-19, improve access to mental health care by expanding Medicaid and declare a 60-day moratorium on evictions in the state of Texas.
During this crisis we can save lives by reducing family stress and by increasing our commitment to safely storing guns.
Rabbi David Lyon, Rev. Dr. Rhenel Johnson and Fr. Simon Bautista are members of the Metropolitan Organization, a 40-year-old coalition of institutions (congregations, schools and nonprofits) that teaches people how to work together across lines of difference to improve the quality of life in their communities.
[Photo Credit: Monica Rhor, The Houston Chronicle]
Staying at home with guns too often leads to deaths, The Houston Chronicle, [pdf]
Alba Garcia, 51, has a decision to make. Does she pay rent Wednesday or does she buy food for her 7-year-old daughter?
“Maybe I should try and pay my rent because I can’t bear for me and my daughter to be on the streets. I can beg for food but I can’t lose my apartment," she said in Spanish. Joe Higgs, an organizer for The Metropolitan Organization (TMO) acted as a translator. TMO works with Holy Ghost Catholic Church where Garcia is a member.
The Metropolitan Organization (TMO) — which is a coalition of organizations and religious institutions — is working with Garcia’s and Hernandez’s church to help them and others in dire situations. Their two big focuses during the coronavirus crisis are ensuring the poorest and most vulnerable people in the Houston area have food security and don’t lose housing.
“As Rev. John Ogletree of First Metropolitan Church and TMO said at a TMO virtual press conference on Wednesday, March 18, ‘hourly and part-time workers like waiters, cleaning crews, bartenders, dishwashers and others are losing their income and this is forcing them to decide whether to buy food, pay utility bills or pay rent,'” the group wrote in a press release.
Among their demands from local lawmakers, TMO is asking that Gov. Greg Abbott place a moratorium on evictions.
[Photo Credit: Click2Houston.com]
After the Covid-19 pandemic precipitated an economic crisis of historic proportions, the Industrial Areas Foundation launched a campaign calling on Congress to provide direct monthly aid for the duration of the crisis to American workers -- regardless of their citizenship.
While the recently passed $2.2 Trillion emergency stimulus will provide adults a one-time $1,200 check, it is set to leave out undocumented immigrants -- including those who pay taxes using a Tax Identification Number. IAF organizations across the West / Southwest IAF working with immigrant communities lay out the implications of this decision below:
Health care is a concern to both undocumented immigrants and legal residents.... Last August, the Trump administration tightened restrictions on legal immigrants who receive government benefits, referred to as 'public charges.' The new policy denies green cards to many immigrants who use Medicaid, food stamps and other benefits.
Immigrants in the Dallas area mask their symptoms so they can continue to work, according to Josephine López Paul, lead organizer with Dallas Area Interfaith.
“We’ve seen our service industries obliterated,” said Ms. López Paul. “Immigrants are being hit the hardest right now and there’s no safety net for them.”
When undocumented immigrants do approach hospitals, they quickly turn away if they see any law enforcement present, according to Ana Chavarin, lead organizer of Pima County Interfaith in Tucson, Ariz. Families are less afraid of the virus itself and more concerned with how they would pay for a long-term hospital visit, she said.
Ms. Chavarin has met with families who, not knowing how long the pandemic will last or when they will find work again, have begun rationing food. “Because they are undocumented, they cannot apply for any kind of help,” she said. Some have U.S. citizen children and could apply for benefits on their behalf, she said. But fear of deportation keeps many from doing so.
Food is the number one concern for pastors in Houston, according to Elizabeth Valdez, lead organizer for The Metropolitan Organization. Some parishes and congregations have started to purchase gift cards for food while others are collecting items for the church pantry. Local chapters of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul are gathering items, but since they often count on elderly volunteers, it has been a challenge.
Children cut off from school presents another challenge for low-income families. “The kids being home, [families] don’t always have the technology they need to keep up with school,” Ms. Valdez said.
“There has to be a way to get the money into the hands of service workers,” said Joe Rubio, director of the West/Southwest Industrial Area Foundation, a community organizing network. Pastors are seeing an increase in domestic violence, he said, likely stemming from frustration, economic pressure and children being home from school. Studies have found that immigrant survivors of domestic violence are unlikely to report abuse to law enforcement. Isolation and behavioral health issues have the potential to lead to an increase in suicide rates, he said.
“This could profoundly change the nature of parishes and congregations,” Mr. Rubio said, referring not only to the economic impact of the coronavirus but also how communities respond to those in need during the crisis. “We have to think about how we compensate those making the biggest sacrifices and how we ramp up the economy once it’s over.”
[Photo Credit: John Locher, AP Photo]