Housing Coalition continues making waves for substandard rentals

IPL has helped OTOC and several housing agencies and tenants organizations work together to research and promote proactive rental inspections for the health and safety of rental properties and renting families in Omaha. See the work being done as policy is shaped and we work for community voices to be heard in the decision making process

Upcoming Actions

Issue Cafe: Coalition Building:

Tuesday February 19 at 6:45 pm
Urban Abbey, 1026 Jackson St.

Join OTOC leaders and other housing experts to learn how we can reform our broken housing code enforcement system. Learn what solutions are being proposed at the Unicameral (LB85) and at the Omaha City Council. Our elected officials will make decisions over the next month that affect the health of families and vitality of neighborhoods for years to come. Find out more and how you can help shape those decisions

Press Coference: #WeDontSlum launch

Join us for the unveiling of the #WeDontSlum campaign and website. This website and hashtag are a place for tenants and neighbors to share photos of the substandard rental units they live in or nearby and to send the message that substandard rental housing cannot be ignored. Visit the website today :www.wedontslum.com

Op-Ed in Omaha World Herald

IPL trained leader Dennis Walsh and Restoring Dignity Executive Director Hannah Wyble published an op-ed in the paper outlining what an effective housing policy should have to prevent the furthering of substandard rental housing.

Read the article here: Midlands Voices: Omaha needs to provide effective, affordable reform of rental oversight

And in case you missed it, here’s the editorial cartoon from Sunday, Feb. 9 titled “There goes the neighborhood”:

Educating the Public on Inspection Policies

IPL is educating the Omaha community as well as City Council and State Senators about what an effective policy must have while the City of Omaha drafts a City ordinance to head off action by the Unicameral on Sen Wayne’s LB 85 which requires the City to register and periodically inspect all rental property in Omaha.

The Mayor and Council will make decisions over the next two weeks that will affect the health and safety of families and vitality of our neighborhoods for years to come.

Talking points- What we believe must be in place for real rental property reform:

  • Require registration of all rental properties.  The city tracks who owns cats and dogs but does not track who owns rental property.  Omaha should emulate Council Bluffs, which uses stiff fines for non-registration to attain an estimated participation rate of 85 percent.  Registration data must be online, easily accessible and include records of code violations and all names of LLC owners.
  • Inspect all registered properties periodically to identify unsafe and unhealthy conditions.  If the city conducted 13,000 inspections per year, that could cover all rental properties in three years if random sampling was used within multi-unit properties.  Landlords with good track records should be inspected less often than landlords with poor ones.  City staff testified at the public hearing on LB 85 that eight to 15 new inspectors would be needed for inspections on a three-year cycle.  That is effective and manageable.
  • Use modest registration fees to fully fund the system.  An annual registration fee on landlords averaging $2.55 per unit per month would generate $2.1 million per year devoted to proactive code enforcement, at negligible cost to either landlords or tenants.  That is affordable.
  • Make the education of tenants and landlords about their rights and responsibilities an essential function of code enforcement.  Start by requiring each rental property to display a poster in appropriate languages with contact numbers for code enforcement and supportive agencies.  Education plus inspections are needed to ensure health and safety, just as in the food industry.  Health impacts of poor housing can be worse than consuming bad food.  We have rules for inspections of food producers that serve public health quite well.
  • Go back to court to get the changes needed to run proper code enforcement.  City staff says that, because of a 2015 consent decree, sometimes they spend one hour conducting an inspection, but then two hours at the office filling out paperwork.  In contrast, Council Bluffs inspectors spend almost all day in the field, and support personnel complete paperwork.  The consent decree allows the city to seek changes to accommodate “changes in circumstances, or administrative operating efficiencies.”  Now is the time to gain these efficiencies.

Training leaders to Testify at State Hearing for Rental Inspection Bill (LB 85)

On Tuesday January 22, the Urban Affairs Committee of the Nebraska Unicameral heard citizen testimonies on LB 85, which would require Omaha and Lincoln to develop a Rental Property Registration and Inspection Ordinance to ensure minimum health and safety standards are met in all rental properties. IPL trained leaders testified in support of LB 85 along with tenants and other organizations like Restoring Dignity, Together, Family Housing Advisory Services, Omaha Healthy Kids Alliance, and others who submitted written testimony. WOWTKETVOmaha World HeraldLincoln Journal Star and 1011 Now all provided news coverage of the hearing.  

Leaders after the LB 85 hearing in Lincoln on a cold, snowy day

Learning and supporting TPS efforts

Friday February 8th, Missioning Prayer and Despedida (Send-Off)

This past Friday, over 100 leaders from IPL, OTOC, and the TPS Alliance of Nebraska gathered to hold a Prayer Service that celebrated both culture and faith for the 9 members of the Omaha community who are representing Nebraska at the TPS Summit in Washington DC from February 10—February 13. The Opening prayer and focus statement were given bilingually by Pastor Juan Carlos Veloso, along with Fr. Chris Saenz, who gave the Blessing to the travelers.

The group traveling to Washington DC was made up of 6 TPS holders, 2 seniors in high school who are the US citizen children of TPS holders, and a Creighton University student. The group flew to Washington DC on Saturday and is currently participating in advocacy, leadership training, and the March for TPS Justice on Tuesday, Feb 12.



Read More . . .

IPL research pushes City towards best practice

IPL helped organize testimony surrounding Tax Increment Financing for Omaha landlord, Dave Paladino. Paladino Development Groups has thousands of low-income units that rent to a wide range of tenants, including many refugees. In the unprecedented hearing, over ten opposing testimonies shared stories of Paladino’s treatment of tenants and business practices, lack of maintenance and upkeep, and unsafe and unsanitary conditions. TIF cases tend to be automatically approved, but the city council, who listened for over an hour and a half to emotional, moving testimony, voted to postpone to vote for three weeks. They want to look into TIF approval laws, which currently do not allow decisions to be made based on the applicant’s other business practices. Click hear for complete Omaha World Herald coverage of the TIF hearing.

Need for enforcement

IPL trained leaders with OTOC’s Housing and Neighborhood Revitalization Action Team testified neutrally (read Gloria Austerberry’s testimony here), saying that Paladino does have a bad reputation among tenants, but works well with housing agencies that have case workers to hold him accountable. He meets the standards that are enforced, but when there is no enforcement, he gets away with neglecting properties and using a business model that seems to exploit tenants (read Hannah Wyble of Restoring Dignity’s testimony at the hearing for examples), proving again that proactive inspections of units will keep properties up to code when landlords don’t do it themselves.
Several testifiers called for inspections on all of Paladino’s properties if he is to qualify for tax dollars on his new development project, and guarantees that rent will remain at market rate (read testimony by Jack Dunn from Policy Research Innovation and Rosalyn Volkmer).

IPL continues to research Omaha’s substandard rental housing and complaint-based code enforcement system, and looking at national best practices, especially a proactive inspection ordinance. Leaders continues to call the City of Omaha to adopt a rental registration AND inspection ordinance so that all rental properties are routinely inspected. The testimony at this hearing showed city council and city staff that Yale Park is not the only substandard property in Omaha. Council member Pete Festersen said in his remarks that the City Council Planning Committee, which has been meeting regularly since Yale Park last September is getting ready to release it’s recommendation on what the city can do to address substandard rental housing. It is clear the tides are turning in the city, and that there is growing attention to substandard rentals and city code enforcement. The question is, when the committee’s plan is released, will it prevent another Yale Park?

Issue cafes educate about refugees, mental health, and housing

Upcoming Events:

Mental Health Emergency Resources
Tuesday, Nov. 20th at 6:45 pm
Hear from Miles Glasgow of Region 6 Behavioral Healthcare about their emergency response programs to help provide mental health services during high stress situations. Information about Mental Health support and education programs will also be available.

Improving Rental Housing in Omaha
Tuesday, Nov. 27th at 6:45 pm
As Yale Park Apartments illustrated, substandard housing in Omaha is a plague on neighborhoods and families. OTOC leaders will discuss the continued state of substandard rental housing and measures our community can take. Since we are all stakeholders, let’s organize to ensure public health and safety.

Refugee Experience: the resettlement process, different immigration paths, and the refugee culture groups in Omaha

Cold temperatures did not deter forty comunity from showing up at the Urban Abbey  to learn more about the refugee experience from Alana Schriver, OPS Refugee Specialist. Despite the weather, the room was filled with old faces and new.

Ms. Schriver taught her listeners the difference between several terms:

Refugees

To be designated as a refugee, one must cross a national border to escape from war, violence, or persecution. Persecution is defined as a life or death situation.  Poverty is not a reason to apply for refugee status. Refugees are vetted in their country of residence and then by the country of destination- this takes years.

Asylum seekers –

Individuals seeking asylum from war, violence, or persecution.  Asylum  is not granted to families. Each individual, regardless of age,  must prove that he/she is being targeted. Those seeking asylum are required to accept asylum from the first country that offers it.  For those who reach the U.S., no legal representation is guaranteed to help the seekers through the vetting process.

Read More . . .

June Issue Cafes at Urban Abbey

A few months a year, the Urban Abbey, a coffe shop/bookstore/Methodist Congregation partners with OTOC, IPL’s sister organization, as community partners. As community partners in June, OTOC receives 10% of the coffee bar sales in the month (drink up in June!) as well as hosts learning opportunities at the Abbey with IPL. This June action teams are hosting four great Issue Cafes to learn more about some issues they are working on. Please join us at any and all of these events, and learn about issues affecting Omaha families.

Events are located at Urban Abbey, 1026 Jackson Street

– June 5: How we can change the Narrative for Substandard Rental Housing. 6:45-8 pm
Join leaders to hear stories and statistics from housing experts about substandard rental housing in Omaha and what we can do to change that situation together. Learn what LaVista and other cities are doing to make sure rental housing meets basic safety codes.

– June 13: Nebraska Medicaid Expansion: Now it’s up to You. 6:45-8 pm
Join leaders to learn about why Nebraska needs to expand Medicaid, the current petition drive, and how you can get involved today to help give all Nebraskans opportunities for affordable health insurance.

-June 19: A Merciful Alternative to Payday Lending. 6:45-8 pm
The Payday Lending Action Team will sponsor a presentation by Jerry Byers of Community Debt Solutions about an experimental, non-profit alternative to payday lenders that would offer short-term, small-principal loans to borrowers with limited access to credit.

– June 28: What is the Ban the Bag Campaign? 6:45-8 pm
Join environmental sustainability leaders to hear from Omaha City Council members Ben Gray and Pete Festersen about the Ban the Bag ordinance being introducing that would ban plastic grocery bags in the city of Omaha.

IPL After Work Gathering a Smashing Success

Each year, IPL participates in Omaha Gives!, a charitable giving day through the Omaha Community Foundation. To help celebrate giving and IPL, the Board of Directors and Advisory Boards hosted an After Work Gathering on May 23, the Omaha Gives! day. One hundred forty people gathered at Hardy Coffee at the new development in North Omaha, Seventy Five North. We were excited to partner with Seventy Five North to show off their new facility and the great work they are doing in the North Omaha community. Several local refugees made delicious foods for the crowd to try, and no one left hungry. During the event, attendees had an opportunity to give online through the Omaha Gives! website, and give they did! Thank you so much for your contributions to IPL during Omaha Gives for our continued work in the community.

The results:

185 Donors gave $18,495 through the OmahaGives site

32 Donors gave $15,000 by check or OCG account as Challenge

For at Total of:  217 Donors gave $33,495  during OmahaGives—our highest total ever

PLUS!

$522 Cash and Contributions (so far) after OmahaGives and

$1000 First Place Participation Prize for 4 pm to Midnight—We did it again!

 GRAND TOTAL:

$35,017  

 for OmahaGives 2018

 Thank you, Thank you, Thank you

We also ranked very well among other organizations:

We won First Place for Medium organizations during the 4 pm-12 am time period

We were 5th Place overall for Medium Sized Organizations (Top 2%)

We were 4th Place of 58 Social Advocacy Organizations (Top 5%)

We were 40th of 950 Total Organizations (Top 4%)

 

Scroll down to see pictures from the After Work Gathering.

Photo credit to AJ Olnes, Creighton University senior

Executive Directer presents at Sustainability Leadership Presentation Series at Metro Community College

Executive Director Joe Higgs and Project Intern Greta Carlson spoke as part of the Sustainability Leadership Presentation Series (SLPS) at Metro Community College about how to use organizing for environmental sustainability. Over 100 faculty, staff, and students watched the webinar in universities across the state of Nebraska. The presentation taught about how leaders can use the cycle of organizing and organizing practices to organize their communities and enhance their sustainability efforts by growing power through their community. Joe Higgs used the example of how IPL trained OTOC leaders  formed their environmental Sustainability Action Team to work on local environmental issues in Omaha. OTOC leaders first kept hearing that people were concerned about environmental issues after a great flood in 2011. Then, at an issues conference, enough people were interested and willing to take leadership, that an action team has formed and is now working on issues like the city’s new waste contract and potential ban on plastic bags. These issues use power to talk to and influence city council members as they create policies that affect the environmental sustainability of Omaha.

To view IPL’s presentation online, follow this link.

To learn more about Metro’s SLPS program, follow this link.

Leaders gather to learn about rental housing issues

Nearly 40 people attended a discussion at Urban Abbey, focused on the problems of substandard rental units and what can be done about them. IPL trained leaders on OTOC’s Housing and Neighborhood Revitalization Team sponsored the event and attendees included landlords, renters and interested citizens.

The evening started out with Dennis Walsh, a Housing team member, who gave a presentation, with maps and fact sheets , about the city’s housing code violations since 2015. The data showed trends toward a growth in both the number of rental units in Omaha and the rising costs of those units. It also pointed out how violations and demolitions tend to be concentrated in certain zip codes. To access these maps, follow these links: Click here for graphs, Active Housing Violations by Year, Jan 2018 Active Housing ViolationsActive Violations Bar All Zip codes

His talk was followed by guest speaker Gary Fischer–Family Housing Advisory Services Legal Counsel.  He gave an in-depth report about both substandard rental housing and evictions.  His presentation included handouts of maps showing eviction notices throughout the city. He said two traits correlated to eviction notices:  poverty and locations which are highly populated by African Americans.

Mr. Fischer said Council Bluffs enacted a landlord registration and inspection ordinance after there had been five children who died in fires in substandard housing units.  Fees from that plan pay for inspections. Omaha faces resistance of landlord registration and inspection because reliable landlords do not want additional costs/burdens when they are being responsible. He noted that additional problems come from substandard housing units that have lead and dander, both adding to health problems, especially for youth. Other youth agencies are working to address this.

Mr. Fischer talked of how evictions affect school children and distributed maps and data showing which schools are most impacted. Karen McElroy, who had visited Liberty elementary along with Joe Higgs, told how that school makes a great effort to work with families who are impacted by evictions.

Mr. Fischer was followed by Terri Mahoney, a member of the Housing team, who gave a brief history of her lifelong experience as a renter and of the problems and uncertainty she has faced.

Intern Greta Carlson shared information about a program she and OTOC have developed to educate refugees and immigrants about tenants’ rights and responsibilities. It has been presented numerous times and in multiple languages.

People broke into small groups to discuss problems and possible solutions. Gloria Austerberry then brought everyone together to listen to results of the talks and hear possible solutions Attendees had the opportunity to become more involved through a variety of options listed on a signup sheet.

If you are interested in getting more involved with substandard rental housing issues in Omaha, email Charlie Gould at charles.gould@cox.net

 

Spring Training reach leaders across the city

IPL Executive Director Joe Higgs and other leaders are teaching about leader development in congregations this spring. The trainings revolve around the importance of including justice in our institutional missions, developing leadership in our institutions, and tools for creating relationships that lead to leadership development. The trainings reached 193 leaders throughout the four-part series, with 78 different people attending several of the four sessions, including those who were new to organizing and those who are experienced, from over sixteen different congregations, including members from some new congregations we are starting to work with. Trainings were held in different locations throughout the city to allow many parts of the city to be involved.

st. benedict sess 2

Session 2 about developing leaders at St. Benedict the Moor

St. Luke Sess. 1
Session 1 in West Omaha at St. Luke UMC

 

Urban Abbey Issue Cafes teach Leaders about important issues

Julie K group

Urban Abbey hosted three different Issue Cafes in the Month of February for leaders and community members learn more about relevant issues happening in Omaha.

environ croppedMichael O’Hara from the Sierra Club (pictured left) spoke about the logistics of the city’s upcoming solid waste policy. Why do we need to care about the trash system? 1. It really affects the environment- methane outputs from landfills, trash trucks driving around, etc. 2. How many trash bins fit in your garage- we would like choices about what size and how many bins each household needs. The OTOC Environmental Sustainability Action Team urges citizens to contact their city council members to ask for community involvement in the planning process and for the council to be engaged and aware when reviewing and choosing a proposal. For talking points about how to contact your city council members, click here

Julie Kalkowski (pictured above) also came and presented about the importance of financial independence- and how that can actually affect your health. Julie has developed a Financial Hope program that is helps single mothers to become financially independent. Julie is currently recruiting 400 single mothers to join her program as part of a study about the effects of financial independence on health. Through Julie’s experience and expertise on financial independence she also encouraged the Predatory Lending Action Team to keep working to get limitations put on predatory pay day lending. Julie sees the affects of these debt cycles in her anti-poverty work. Want more information about Julie’s program, click here. To learn more about Pay Day Lending regulation, click here.

Jo Giles, Policy and Training Director for Strong Nebraska (pictured right), was OTOC’s guest speaker at the March 27 meeting of the Urban Abbey Series.  The Coalition for a Strong Nebraska  is a coalition of  85 non-profits who are committed to ending poverty through public poliJo Gilescy engagement.

Ms. Giles biggest message was that non-profits can lobby.  While the coalition does not lobby itself, it will train people in lobbying skills.

The discussion then turned to an overview of some bills being considered currently in the Unicameral in the areas of Property tax, Healthcare, Education and Civic Engagement.  Ms. Giles noted that a big factor influencing the passing of a bill is the ability of the state to pay for it.  As of Tuesday, Nebraska is experiencing a $200M budget shortfall.

Those bills that have a priority designation have the best chance of getting out to the floor. Sen. Vargas’s LB194 about Pay Day Lending has been named his priority bill, but has still not left the Banking Committee. We will have to wait and see if it will make it to the open  floor. 

For additional information on learning how to lobby, receiving a weekly update on legislation, or finding a tutorial on using the legislative website, look here.