Churches in Brazoria County, with its county seat being in Angleton, are helping residents still hurting from the pandemic’s financial fallout to apply for rental assistance through a recent $11.3 million federal grant, community leaders say.
The monies became available June 14 after Church and community leaders met with Brazoria County Judge Matt Sebesta earlier in the spring. They specifically asked him how they could help distribute the funds so it wouldn’t be sent back to the federal government as had been considered.
A contingency of three Catholic priests, The Metropolitan Organization (TMO) nonprofit and other church groups, including Grace Episcopal, met with the county judge back in March.
“We let the county judge know that we have volunteers to help with the paperwork and we have those in dire need of assistance,” said Sister Maureen O’Connell, director of the Secretariat for Social Concerns.
“Poor and vulnerable people trust the Church more. So this collaboration between government and Church groups is a wonderful opportunity to help them,” she said.
[Photo Credit: Catholic News Service]
$11.3 Million Approved for Brazoria County Residents Struggling With Rent in Pandemic, Texas Catholic Herald
Advocacy on eviction prevention has become an important part of this work as well. The Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston is affiliated with The Metropolitan Organization, a CCHD-fund grassroots organization that has taken on eviction prevention work since March.
Much of the effort has focused on convincing Houston and Harris County officials to quickly distribute tens of millions of dollars for rental assistance that was allocated under the $2.2 trillion CARES Act, said Elizabeth Valdez, lead organizer with The Metropolitan Organization.
St. John the Baptist Parish in Alvin, Texas, a Metropolitan Organization member, has provided partial rental support for about 30 families in which the primary earner has lost work as industries like construction and landscaping have retrenched under the pandemic.
Father John Taoson, pastor at St. John the Baptist, told CNS the parish community has determined it must help people in need, especially those families whose members are in the country illegally because they are ineligible for the rental relief funds.
[Photo Credit: Lucy Nicholson/Reuters]
According to community leaders, about 10,000 renters have been evicted from March through August in the Houston area before the recent eviction moratorium was put into place by the Center for Disease Control to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
The CDC ordered a national eviction moratorium, halting evictions effective Sept. 4 through the end of 2020 as COVID-19 continues to cause health and economic hardships. But residents will still be under obligation to pay rent, so those eligible need to apply to Houston’s $60 million rental assistance program allocated through the City of Houston and Harris County, said The Metropolitan Organization (TMO) members, a nonprofit of church groups.
“Evictions put us all at risk,” said TMO’s Bob Fleming. “People who are evicted move in with other people and compound liability to COVID-19 by creating more density....”
Baptist Rev. Jaqueline Hailey, as part of a TMO press conference, said, “The CDC order creates a welcomed pause in evictions in this area, but it 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.”
[Photo Credit: Jo Ann Zuñiga, Texas Catholic Herald]
Thousands Evicted in Houston Area Before Eviction Moratorium, Rental Assistance, Texas Catholic Herald [pdf]
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]
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)
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]