Our network had the rare opportunity to visit with Pope Francis at the Vatican.
An interfaith delegation of 20 leaders and organizers met with him to share our collective work of broad based organizing at a time when the Pope is guiding the global church in a historic Synod listening process.
The Holy Father sat side by side with us in his residence, thanking us for inconveniencing ourselves to come see him. What ensued was a true dialogue, a 90-minute conversation in Spanish with lots of back and forth engagement. The encounter was filled with many graced moments about both the joys and the struggles of our work, and the work of the Church, past, present, and to come.
This invitation to meet was in large part due to the recognition of our work by local Bishops, particularly those involved with the 'Recognizing the Stranger' strategy, which is dedicated to formation and leadership development of immigrant parishioners. As well, our involvement to support the Synod process in multiple dioceses has helped to bring those in the margins to the center of the synodal dialogue.
As we shared our experiences of organizing, we were struck by how carefully he listened, asked questions, and engaged with lots of humor. Early on, he reflected back to us, “Usaron mucho las palabras ‘ver’ y ‘escuchar,’... Me impresiona que ninguno de ustedes es parte de alguna teoría. Ninguno dice ‘leí un libro y me interesó eso.’” (You constantly use the words “to see” and “to listen.. I am impressed that none of you start with any theory. No one says ‘I read a book and that interested me.’) “El peligro es intelectualizar el problema” (The danger is when you intellectualize a problem).
He stressed the importance of being with people and paying attention to their reality, emphasizing Amor Concreto, love concretely in action, saying that he understood our work as seeing and hearing of injustice in the real lives of our people, acting to change the situation, and being changed ourselves as a result. He expressed his appreciation for our focus on what we are doing, rather than to complain about what is not being done or to disparage anyone. “Ustedes no menospreciaron a nadie.”
Before concluding, he thanked us for our visit, saying that although he had never known of IAF before, he was glad that he knew us now, and he welcomed further conversation around our continuing work with the Synod process.
We teach that power recognizes power. For Pope Francis, “el verdadero poder es el servicio,” (“true power is service”). Recounting the Good Samaritan, he clearly stated that the Gospel cannot be understood without acting with those who are suffering. He recognized the leaders and organizations of the IAF and the powerful work that is happening every day at the margins. He referred to the IAF as “Good News for the United States.”
We are humbled to represent the many decades of work from those who preceded us, and we are encouraged in the continuation of our work into the future.
The Problem With Jon Stewart to Cover Texas IAF Effort to Stem Corporate Tax Breaks at Expense of Students
Last summer, Texas IAF leaders and nonprofit allies shut down Chapter 313 (a state tax exemption program giving away close to a billion dollars per year to major industrial and petrochemical companies). Since then, over 400 corporate applications have flooded the system ahead of the program's expiration date at the end of this year -- more than twice as many as before.
Reverend Minerva Camarena Skeith of Central Texas Interfaith/Texas IAF explains to Jon Stewart the impact of state legislation that allows major corporations to siphon off state funding that could otherwise go to public schools.
The Problem with Jon Stewart will air this episode on Friday, October 21st.
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Additional background on Texas IAF effort:
No More Hogs at the Trough-Containing Corporate Subsidies in Texas, Nonprofit Quarterly
The Unlikely Demise of Texas' Biggest Corporate Tax Break, Texas Observer
"Imagination. With empty lots and abandoned swaths of land, we had to imagine something else."
That is how the Rev. David Brawley, of St. Paul Community Baptist Church and East Brooklyn Congregations/Metro IAF, described the start of what has emerged as "the most consequential community development effort in the country."
Ted Koppel, with CBS Sunday Morning, interviewed Metro IAF leaders Rev. Brawley and Sarah Plowden of St. Paul, as well as affordable housing developer Kirk Goodrich to tell the story of how imagination and sustained institutional power resulted in a $1.5 Billion wealth-building equity strategy for first-time homeowners in low-income African-American and Latino neighborhoods in East Brooklyn, DC, Jersey City, Chicago and Baltimore.
It took imagination and power to secure commitments from Democratic Mayor Ed Koch for the cheap purchase of empty city lots and subsidies for building -- as well as from Republican Mayor Rudy Giuliani to ensure there was enough money in the budget for the Spring Creek development.
Over 6,500 first-time homeowners have benefited from Nehemiah housing. Physical homes may be the foundation, but it is homeowners who have breathed new life into their communities, demonstrating the vitality of the American Dream.
In photos at right: Matilda Dyer from St. Paul's shares her story; affordable housing developer Kirk Goodrich explains why the Nehemiah strategy is the "most consequential community development effort in the country"; Matilda Dyer, describes how her initial application for home ownership was an 'act of faith'; and Sandra and Armando Martinez detail their journey to ownership of the home their call their "palace."
[Image Credit: CBS News Sunday Morning]
Nehemiah: Making the American Dream Possible for First-Time Homeowners, CBS News Sunday Morning
The American Dream: One Block Can Make All The Difference, National Public Radio
In a Sea of Foreclosures, an Island of Calm, New York Times
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....
"The Diocese of Monterey is in the beginning stages of the synod, training parish groups to go out and listen to the experiences of everyone, including those on the margins. Bishop Garcia and Deacon David Ford, who is leading the process in the diocese, both have experience working with community organizing groups in the past. They were quick to enlist their help with the synod.
“We don’t need to reinvent the wheel,” said Bishop Garcia, who had been meeting with Communities Organized for Relational Power in Action, or COPA, since he arrived in Monterey. COPA is an association of community organizers based in California. “There are already some processes out there,” the bishop said. COPA “does a really good job of getting the pulse of the people. We’ve been really happy about how, at least initially, it’s going.”
Diocesan leaders [held] five separate regional meetings to train leaders throughout the diocese about how to carry out the synod at their parish. Bishop Garcia invited pastors to attend along with a group of parishioners who would lead the synod at their church."
[In photos: (top) Bishop Daniel Garcia delivers opening remarks at one of five regional training sessions; (middle right) COPA leaders initiate synodal conversations.]
A California Bishop Invited Community Organizers to Help with the Synod. So Far, It’s Working, America: The Jesuit Review [pdf]
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]
With sadness, we report the loss of Michael Clements, longtime IAF organizer. He served as organizer with TMO and predecessor organizations of One-LA during a career that spanned four decades.
After supporting farm workers [with United Farm Workers of America], Clements joined the Industrial Areas Foundation, the longest-standing network of local faith and community-based organizations in the nation, and moved to Houston to work for the organization... [Back in California] Clements crossed paths with Fred Ross, Sr....
Said Fred Ross, Jr., a Bay Area-based social justice organizer: “My father respected Mike and saw him as one of the up-and- coming organizers back in 1985.”
Said [Cardinal Roger] Mahony, “He was the epitome of a great community organizer backed up by his wonderful Catholic faith, especially the social teachings of the church, which he knew inside and out from the Pope Leo XIII’s Rerum Novarum in 1891 all the way to Pope Francis today.”
[Photo Credit: Scott Smeltzer, Los Angeles Times]
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.]
At Urging of CTI, Travis County & City of Austin Invest $200+ Million into Homelessness Prevention & Support
After years of working to protect the dignity of people experiencing homelessness and preventing low-income families from displacement, Central Texas Interfaith (CTI) leaders celebrated the investment of $220+ Million in federal funding into homelessness prevention and support.
Over 100 CTI leaders were joined by City of Austin Mayor and Travis County Judge Andy Brown who expressed appreciation for the organization's partnership and doggedness in addressing key regional challenges. Leaders relayed how this effort was connected to a multi-year effort that resulted in passage of an affordable housing bond in 2018, $40 Million in rental assistance during the first year of the pandemic, and now over $217 million in federal dollars into homelessness prevention and support.
Elected officials further committed to identifying sources for additional rental assistance as eviction moratoriums lift.
Homeless Housing Plans, Spectrum News
Interfaith Group Calls for Immediate Action on Homelessness, Austin Monitor [pdf]
Press Conference Footage, Central Texas Interfaith
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].