Pastor John D. Ogletree reflected Thursday evening that it had been a sad day in Houston, and a somber one. Four city police officers were fired that day for their roles in the April 21 death of Nicolas Chavez, in an incident captured on police video that was finally made public after months of calls, from activists, to “release the tapes.”
But as Ogletree noted Thursday evening, at the beginning of an online summit on justice coordinated by The Metropolitan Organization of Houston and the Network of Texas IAF Organizations, Chavez’ death wasn’t an isolated incident.
“Chavez was the first of six killed by HPD officers during a two-month stretch, April and May,” Ogletree said. “All of these were men of color who were killed....”
“The cry now across the nation is for justice,” Ogletree continued. “Since May, there has been a heightened sense of rage, desperation, and resolve to shift the way policing is done in America.”
That’s certainly true, and it’s the best reason to feel optimistic about the prospects for police reform in Houston, at least....
[Photo Credit: Pastor John Ogletree of First Metropolitan Church]
Grieder: Push for Police Reform Shouldn’t be Scuttled in Favor of Partisan Politics, Houston Chronicle [pdf]
Leaders with The Metropolitan Organization of Houston, a coalition of churches and organizations that work to help low-income, local communities, are calling on Justices of the Peace to halt evictions and for renters to take action to prevent losing their homes.
Beginning Friday, a new evictions moratorium issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention takes place. The rare order prohibits landlords from evicting any tenants through the end of the year but does not relieve renters of having to pay their rent and other fees in the future.
TMO leaders said during a Friday press conference while the CDC's sweeping moratorium is a step in the right direction, it's not enough.
“The CDC order creates a welcome pause in evictions in this area but is only a half-measure because all rents and late fees will continue to pile up and be due when the moratorium expires on December 31” Rev. Jaqueline Hailey, a leader with TMO, said in a news release.
“COVID-19 is not going anywhere, and it is time for Congress to return to negotiations to pass the next stimulus bill, including $100 Billion in rental assistance,” TMO Leader Rev. Scott Cooper said in the release.
[Photo Credit: Courtesy of UT Physicians]
Houston Coronavirus Updates: What You Need To Know For September 4th, Houston Chronicle [pdf]
Tuesday’s memo comes as the Census Bureau begins outreach to the nation’s hardest-to-count groups, including immigrants. If the government is seen as trying to disadvantage them, some might be less likely to respond to the survey, immigrant advocates said.
“This is an order designed to sow fear and mistrust between peoples and becomes a matter of life and death as the US battles a deadly pandemic,” said a statement from the Industrial Areas Foundation, a group that works with churches and organizers in the West and Southwest to educate and support minority communities.
Soco[rro] Perales, an organizer with Dallas Area Interfaith, said that organizers will continue to encourage immigrant families to cooperate with the Census.
“That information cannot be shared” with immigration authorities, she said. “Everybody still needs to be counted and it is still safe.”
[Photo Credit: Mandel Ngan, AFP / Getty Images]
New Trump Order Excluding Non-Citizens From Census Could Cost Texas a Seat in Congress, Dallas Morning News [pdf]
Statement on today's Executive Order, Industrial Areas Foundation
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, The Enterprise]
Beaumont Has $1.2 Million to Ease Virus' Economic Hardships, Beaumont Enterprise [pdf]
TMO is among the coalition of nonprofits that have approached the city and county to urge the equitable distribution of those funds.
“We asked City Council to commit $100 million of the $404 million in the Coronavirus Relief Fund to rental assistance. But the next day, they committed $15 million that was distributed online in a matter of minutes to about 12,000 families,” Higgs said.
“A survey shows of the 700,000 rental units in the area, up to 85,000 cannot pay rent at this time. A huge number of the people are service workers, men and women of color, hourly workers who lost their jobs with little if any savings. The need is so immense,” he said.
With any moratoriums on evictions ending, justices of the peace may resume processing eviction notices by mid-June and constables will start showing up at apartments, he said.
“It doesn’t make sense to evict someone who has paid regularly but is not able to currently pay during this crisis. Plus, when someone in uniform shows up to evict, it’s scary as heck, especially for those who may be undocumented,” Higgs said.
[Photo Credit: Courtesy of St. Charles Borromeo Catholic Church]
Facing Eviction, Single Mothers With Kids Hit Hardest By Need For Rental Assistance, Texas Catholic Herald [pdf]
"Because of language barriers, Texas risks leaving some of the state’s marginalized communities even more vulnerable to contracting the virus while making it more difficult to access resources needed to get through the pandemic...."
"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.
[Photo Credit: Eddie Gaspar, Texas Tribune]
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]