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]
Building on last month’s achievement of making tenants’ rights a front-and-center issue in post-Harvey recovery, The Metropolitan Organization of Houston (TMO) leaders continue working with documented — and undocumented — immigrants to ensure their rights are protected.
Houston Mayor, Texas Senator Join TMO in Call on Landlords for Post-Harvey Grace Period for Renters, Univision, Telemundo & More
In response to TMO's call for mercy from landlords threatening to evict residents, in the form of a 45-day grace period for renters without penalties, Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner announced he would carefully analyze the issue. He also called on landlords to grant renters time to come up with the rent.
Three TMO leaders testified at City Hall: Raul Ramirez of St. Leo The Great Catholic Church, Rev. Simón Bautista, Christ Church Cathedral Church and Rev. Edward Gomez of St. Paul's Episcopal Church /Iglesia Episcopal San Pablo.
Late Fees Add Problems for Tenants Who Missed Out on Work During Harvey, Houston Public Media
Landlords Still Charging Harvey Victims Rent for Destroyed Homes, Death and Taxes
Acting on stories they heard in outreach efforts around church neighborhoods, 70 leaders from 10 member institutions of TMO convened a Saturday morning press conference to call on landlords to grant a three-week (minimum) grace period for renters in the area and across Harris County.
TMO leaders report that pastors are afraid of evictions for not being able to pay rent, due to a week without work caused by Hurricane Harvey. This loss of income is devastating to families and evictions will exacerbate financial hardships and instability during this recovery period.
Fr. Ed Gomez of San Pablo Episcopal Church and his members have visited ten surrounding apartment complexes to urge landlords for grace periods, but not all landlords have agreed. If mortgage companies can give lenders 90 days to get back on their feet, leaders argue, then surely landlords can give at least two weeks.
TMO called on the Mayor and Council to urge landlords not to exploit community members when all are recovering from the unprecedented storm together. Leaders also called on Mayor Turner and Judge Emmitt to create a public works strategy that will hire people who are unemployed to do the massive cleanup that is needed.
Some Apartment Dwellers Face Post-Harvey Eviction, Houston Chronicle
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