Metro IAF leaders Rev. David K. Brawley, Rabbi Joel Mosbacher and IAF Senior Advisor Mike Gecan outline concrete strategies to address gun violence.
We are three typical Americans. One of us lost his father when a young man with a gun killed him as he opened his store in Chicago. Another of us is the son of an NYPD officer, who worried every day as his father left for work, and then became a pastor in what once were the “killing fields” of East New York, burying young men gunned down in the surrounding streets. A third grew up in a tough Chicago neighborhood and woke up one morning in 1965 to see the faces of three of his teenage neighbors, 15 and 16 years old, on the front page of the morning paper. They had gone out the night before, high on pep pills, and shot to death an elderly man for the $17 in his pocket.
We are three very different people, from different places, with different religious traditions, but we are bound together, in part, by the common denominator of gun violence, of sudden and stunning death.
It’s clear what can’t be done about gun violence because of the political protection provided by those who value gun possession over the lives of innocent shoppers and schoolchildren. They are practicing a modern form of idolatry. The idol is the gun and all the profit made by those who make, sell and distribute guns.
So there’s no point in trying to convert the idol worshipers. They have chosen their object of adoration. No massacre, no casualty counts of 9- and 10-year-olds or senior citizen food shoppers will shake their faith. There’s also no point in calling for changes that well-funded and entrenched political forces steadfastly refuse to make. They are intractable. They are resistant to any moral or ethical or pragmatic challenge.
So we don’t want to waste another minute stuck in the latest cycle of futility. Instead, we are writing to challenge those who do value life over gun- delivered death to take the steps that can be made in spite of right-wing opposition....
In Rochester Heights, a historically Black neighborhood in Southeast Raleigh, property taxes have more than doubled for some homeowners — their expenses rapidly increasing as gentrification takes hold.
Those same homeowners are now lobbying the Wake County Board of Commissioners to create a grant program that would offer relief from tax bills, similar to the ones recently put in place by Mecklenburg and Durham counties. ONE Wake...is calling for a program that offers payments to people who have owned their homes for at least 10 years and earn less than 80 percent of area median income. The program would cover any and all property taxes that exceed 2 percent of qualifying homeowners' annual income....
"When you look in Southeast Raleigh, [said Rev. Jemonde Taylor, the rector at Saint Ambrose Episcopal Church], these were areas where Black people were forced to live. Now that these areas are desirable, property taxes are increasing... We have to take history into account. Raleigh and Wake County purport equity. So the question is, what is the equitable thing to do?"
The day after ONE Wake's rally (which drew 100 One Wake leaders and residents), County Commissioners instructed the Manager to create a property tax assistance plan that more closely responds to ONE Wake's proposal. While there was limited detail about other available options, ONE Wake expressed concern that the formation of a Community Land Trust would not preserve home ownership and generational wealth.
[Photos: (top) Rev. Jemonde Taylor explains the proposed relief plan at ONE Wake Property Tax Rally, St. Ambrose Episcopal Church, credit: ONE Wake Facebook video; (right) ONE Wake leaders at Rally]
Wake County Commissioners Talk Property Tax Relief, INDY Week [pdf]
On December 23, 2021, Metro IAF affiliates Manhattan Together (MT) and South Bronx Churches (SBC) reached an agreement with the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) to extend robust legal protections against mold, leaks and other excess moisture to tenants in buildings that are part of NYCHA’s Permanent Affordability Commitment Together (PACT) program. Roughly 62,000 units will be converted to private management through PACT, a federal Rental Assistance Demonstration (RAD) program.
These protections are part of the consent decree reached in the Metro IAF federal lawsuit, Baez v. NYCHA. The agreement includes:
- NYCHA requirement that managers address all open mold and excessive moisture repair requests within 60 days after they officially enter RAD/PACT. Following this period, private managers must clean up all mold and excessive moisture complaints within 30 days.
- Building managers must submit monthly reports identifying all unresolved mold complaints -- and a plan to resolve them -- to NYCHA, an independent data analyst and a special master who are already part of the court agreement. If the plan is inadequate, the Special Master can order stronger action.
- RAD/PACT tenants will regain their ability to register mold complaints with the independent mold and leak Ombudsman hired under the consent decree. This Ombudsman’s office has already compelled NYCHA to make almost 7,000 repairs. They will investigate every mold case in a RAD/PACT building that hasn’t been resolved by the required 30-day deadline.
This victory came from the hard work by leaders from MT, SBC and East Brooklyn Congregations, as well as the pro-bono legal team from Proskauer Rose, the Natural Resources Defense Council and the National Center for Law and Economic Justice.
Metro IAF’s clergy, tenant and community leaders are working to ensure that tenants in RAD/PACT buildings exercise their rights and will work with NYCHA and developers to ensure the agreement will be executed.
[In photo: Bernard Smith, Rev. Bertram Bennett and Rep. Ritchie Torres speak at Metro IAF rally.]
In response to an extensive organizing campaign by VOICE Arlington, including testimony by 30 Serrano Apartment tenants and VOICE leaders at a December meeting, Arlington County officials are overhauling its oversight of affordable housing and building owner accountability.
County changes now include:
1) Increased inspections, starting with 1,200 units in six aging, multifamily properties subsidized by the county.
2) Changes to the County's Affordable Housing Investment Fund process that require companies seeking county financing to identify building needs and provide a plan for repairs.
3) Examination of how the County can better support tenants in affordable-housing units. This followed testimony by tenant leaders about years of problems with insects, mold, leaks and crime.
Together, these changes represent a “major body of work” for the County in 2022, according to Vice-Chair Katie Cristol.
In top photo, Rev. Ashley Goff of Arlington Presbyterian Church at GilliamPlace testifies at the Arlington County Board Meeting [Credit: Arlington County video]. Right photos feature dirty, moldy plumbing in Serrano Apartments [Credit: Elder Julio Basurto via ARL Now].
Over 100 Metro IAF public housing leaders and allies from the Melrose and Courtlandt houses and the surrounding community gathered to celebrate the installation of affordable community Wi-Fi at the Melrose houses. Thanks to Metro IAF’s partnership with Bloc Power and People’s Choice Communications, all 1,244 families who live in the Melrose and Courtlandt Houses can now get internet at no cost if they sign up for the Federal Emergency Broadband Benefit, as well as a laptop for only $11.
“Internet access is no longer a luxury, it's a right and a necessity,” said Fr. Sean McGillicuddy, Pastor of Immaculate Conception Roman Catholic Church and a leader with Metro IAF. “Hundreds of my parishioners live in the Melrose and Courtlandt houses, and I’m thrilled that we have been able to work with key partners like BlocPower, PCC, and Representative Torres to help them and their neighbors get access to high-quality internet they can afford.”
“When school was closed because of the pandemic, many children in our community couldn’t get to their classes because the internet was too expensive or the signal wasn’t good enough,” said Angela Medina, a Melrose resident working with Metro IAF, PCC, and BlocPower to reach out and educate her neighbors about the program. “I’m proud to help ensure no one ever has to go through that again, and I am excited about the new lower price for Internet access, which will help so many people to afford things like food, medicine and other necessities.”
Thanks to the work of Metro IAF and partners, the same service is available to an additional 400 families in other low-income and supportive housing buildings in the Bronx. Metro IAF is working to sign up everyone who is eligible, begin installation in two more New York City Housing Authority developments, and find other opportunities to expand this network to people living in other low and moderate-income housing.
[In photo from left: Angela Medina, Fr. Sean McGillicuddy, Rep. Ritchie Torres, Bernard Smith]
New York City Broadband Housing Initiative Gets First Completed Project, Broadband Breakfast [pdf]
Community-Owned WiFi Completed in Two Bronx NYCHA developments, Amsterdam News [pdf]
A Bigger and Stronger Network/“Una Red Más Grande y Más Fuerte, Bronx Free Press [pdf English] [pdf Español]
Wi-Fi Installed for Residents at 2 NYCHA Complexes in the Bronx, News 12 The Bronx
Washington Post Profiles Nehemiah Strategy as 'Revitalization Without Gentrification'
This summer, United Power for Action & Justice (UPAJ) secured $27.6 Million in commitments and land towards the building of 2,000 Nehemiah Homes on vacant lots controlled by the city in severely blighted areas on the city's south and west sides as part of its Reclaiming Chicago campaign. In a press conference with Mayor Lightfoot, Illinois Senate President Harmon and other local officials and allies, UPAJ announced the following advances:
1) Chicago Mayor Lightfoot's commitment of the first 250 city-owned vacant lots (the first of 1,000) in North Lawndale and $5.3 million in TIF funds for site remediation from the city of Chicago;
2) $12.25 million from private investors (e.g. banks, wealthy individuals, and family foundations) towards a 0%, 5-year revolving construction loan fund to build homes at scale. UPAJ's goal is to secure $25 million in funding to allow for the construction of 100 Nehemiah homes at a time.
3) $10 million line item in the Illinois State Budget for grant funds for homebuyer subsidies. This is enough to assist approximately 300 new homebuyers in purchasing 300 new constructed homes.
UPAJ's Reclaiming Chicago campaign is modeled on the Metro IAF Nehemiah Housing strategy which has built more than 6,500 homes for first-time home-buyers, creating over $2 Billion in wealth and with a foreclosure rate of less than 1% in New York, Jersey City, Baltimore, Chicago, Prince George's County, Philadelphia, Memphis and Washington DC. This strategy was recently profiled by the Washington Post:
IAF [was] instrumental in one of the most successful experiments in affordable housing.
In the early 1980s, New York City Mayor Ed Koch agreed to sell 16-square miles of abandoned lots in Brooklyn’s Brownsville neighborhood to a group of local churches for $1 per lot. The city also offered $10,000 deferred payment loans to perspective [sic] home buyers. Around 1,250 homes were initially constructed with prices starting as low as $50,000. The project — called Nehemiah homes — created a critical mass of development and equity in the neighborhood that continues today.
More than 4,500 Nehemiah homes have been built since the 1980s in the New York City area, generating more than a billion dollars in total homeowner equity, according to the developers. The project has a less than 1 percent foreclosure rate, and a study conducted by Nehemiah found that children who grew up in the development earned 53 percent higher wages than their parents.
[In top photo: Kevin Sutton, North Lawndale Community Coordinating Council and UPAJ leader. In photo at right, new affordable housing in North Lawndale neighborhood. Credit: Joshua Lott, Washington Post]
A New Model for Affordable Housing, Washington Post Reports [podcast]
Washington Interfaith Network’s CARE Campaign (Corporate Accountability for Racial Equity), has resulted in the introduction by Pepco/Exelon of the $36 million Racial Equity Capital Fund. The fund will provide needed capital to help minority-owned businesses create jobs and expand in under-resourced communities served by Exelon’s utilities.
This is part of a larger agreement Washington Interfaith Network(WIN) negotiated with Pepco to increase access to local careers and raise wages of frontline workers. That project is already underway with commitments for 100 additional careers a year from D.C. communities with high unemployment. Wages are increased for all front line contractors to the prevailing wage, resulting in several job categories making nearly double what they were previously earning.
[Image: David Velazquez, Exelon Executive Vice President, on Twitter.]
Exelon Announces $36 Million Equity Fund to Support Minority-Owned Business Growth, Exelon Corporation [pdf]
“The historical truth is that no single person—no matter how
gifted—has led complex social change on her own.”
-- BUILD leader Rev. Glenna Huber, Episcopal Church of the Epiphany
The pandemic made clear what we’ve previously known but rarely embodied: American cultural individualism is not sustainable. For people of faith, this individualism is not supported by scripture. Ever since the beginning, the Divine is recorded as creating with an eye toward relationships, and humans create in relationship with each other as well as their Creator....
This myth of individualism has even infected the way we talk about the social movements of the past. We love to tell stories of unilateral decisions by prophets “speaking truth to power.” We imagine Rosa Parks refusing to get out of her seat as a single, solitary event. We tell stories of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. looking to the heavens for a dramatic word. We imagine Harriet Tubman driving the underground railroad all by herself. These stories are not so much untrue as incomplete. They neglect the way that individuals were shaped by the institutions of their time and how that shaping gave rise to their courage. They ignore the teams of people whose collective efforts produced individual actions and leveraged those actions for larger change. The historical truth is that no single person—no matter how gifted—led complex social change on her own.
[In photo at podium Rector Glenna Huber (center) and Pastor Andrew Connors (right) stand with former BUILD cochair Bishop Douglas Miles, who died last month.]
Leveraging the Power of Relational Organizing, Christian Century
Residents of a 50-unit mobile home park in Wake Forest, NC organized through ONE Wake to secure $375,000 in relocation expenses from the Town of Wake Forest and developer Middleburg Communities. As a result, each household in the park will receive roughly $12,500.
Six months ago, residents of the mobile home park received notice that their park would be closed to make way for the development of a 275-unit upscale single family home development. Since then, resident leaders have organized their power for a series of actions, including a July, 2021 press conference with over 200 people that brought developer Middleburg Communities to the negotiating table.
On September 21, over 50 residents and ONE Wake leaders rallied outside of the Wake Forest Town Hall and successfully urged their Town Commissioners to vote yes on rezoning conditions that hold the developer accountable for compensating residents for their displacement.
This campaign was one in a series of mobile home park campaigns organized by IAF affiliates in North Carolina to respond to the pressure from major developers, global investment firms, and hedge funds that have begun to purchase and flip parks all across the state.
Wake Forest Approves New Homes, with More Money to Move Mobile Home Park Residents, Raleigh News & Observer [pdf]
IAF organizations across the country developed strategies to bring vaccines to the communities that were hardest hit by COVID-19 and had the least access to the vaccine. From registration events to vaccination clinics paired with neighborhood walks, IAF leaders showed that getting shots in arms requires organizing.
In one of the early campaigns, One LA-IAF leaders in Los Angeles organized the effort to vaccinate close to 900 senior citizens and essential workers in the hard-hit South LA community around St. Brigid Catholic Church.
"The issue is vaccine access," said Jim Mangia, President and CEO of St. John's Well Child and Family Center in an interview with ABC National News. "Most people in South LA have not had access to the vaccine. There's not hesitancy - people have questions of course, but people want to get vaccinated. The issue is that there was nowhere for them to go."
Nowhere to go, that is, until One LA leaders began organizing. After months of advocating for a more equitable vaccination campaign targeting hard-hit neighborhoods, One LA leaders secured a partnership with Supervisor Holly Mitchell and medical partner St. John's Well Child & Family Center to bring the vaccines to the neighborhood around St. Brigid Catholic Church.
"Unfortunately, it is one of the least vaccinated areas in Los Angeles," said Fr. Kenneth Keke, Pastor of St. Brigid Catholic Church. "One in five residents have had Covid-19, and only 1 in 18 have been vaccinated. We are going to change that. We don't want anybody left behind."
Over the course of four days, One LA leaders went door to door, passed out flyers and called 4,000 households. The targeted approach shielded the vaccine supply from out-of-the-area "vaccine chasers," but more importantly reached people who otherwise wouldn't be able to access the vaccine at all.
Meaghan Myrtle, a 90 year old resident of the neighborhood, had been trying for months to secure an appointment. Ms. Myrtle had no access to transportation or the internet. "This church called me back. Nobody else called me back."
[Photo credits: Top, One LA-IAF Vaccine event, Rafael Paz; Right top, Together New Orleans neighborhood outreach event, Bobbi-Jeanne Misick, New Orleans Public Radio, Right bottom, Fr. Kenneth Keke, St. Brigid Catholic Church, Los Angeles, NBC News]
Group Gives Help to Vaccine Candidates, NBC 4 Los Angeles [video]
Fight for Vaccine Equity, ABC News National [video]
A Los Angeles Pilot Program Will Vaccinate Hundreds Within 2-Mile Radius of a Catholic Church, Religion News Service [pdf]
Churches in LA's Working-Class Neighborhoods Urge: 'Bring the Vaccine to the People', Religion News Service [pdf]
Together Louisiana / Together New Orleans:
The Latest Phase of Covid-19 Vaccine Rollout Is Slow, Deliberate and on the Ground, New Orleans Public Radio [pdf]
Dallas Area Interfaith:
Many Faith Leaders in North Texas Embracing their Role in Vaccine Push, Dallas Morning News [pdf]
The Metropolitan Organization Houston:
Coalition Brings Vaccines to Beaumont Residents in At-Risk Areas, Beaumont Enterprise [pdf]
Jornada de Vacunación en Ciudad con Gran Población Hispana, Telemundo [en español]
Putting Our Faith & Commitment to Democracy in Action, Southeast Texas Faith & Community Leaders
Valley Interfaith Project: