80 Hispanic leaders from more than 21 different institutions gathered for a two-day leadership formation on June 21 and June 22. Sponsored by the Institute for Public Leadership, Omaha Together One Community, Catholic Campaign for Human Development and Inter-faith Education Fund, these participants learned how to connect one’s faith to relational organizing practices. The leadership curriculum was inspired by wisdom and faith tradition, using Scripture and theological readings. The training started with a shared meal at St. Pius X Catholic Church Friday night. Here, participants acted out Scripture in order to understand the purpose of community. Then, the training moved to College of St. Mary’s campus, where participants learned the purpose of baptismal community, collective leadership, pressure on families and communities and qualities of leadership. One of the participants, Jose Fortoso, stated that the training was a great learning experience and that he wished he would have this workshop earlier. The training closed with key learning points and goals that participants want to bring back to their congregations and institutions. This training has been available in various parts of the US, but we are hopeful that we can continue fostering the local Hispanic leadership.
On June 27, we had our final June issue cafe. 17 people attended to learn about three new OPPD programs: community solar, electrical vehicle rebates, and the low-income energy efficiency pilot. On April 1st, OPPD announced their community solar program that allows you to get affordable solar energy. Solar energy uses light from the sun to create energy, which serves as a clean and sustainable process. Each solar share is $0.69 per share for residents where each share represents 100 kilowatts per month. Then, another charge will be added to your OPPD bill. The shares, however, were completely sold out in just one month before they were even opened for commercial sales. The OPPD stronger suggested to enroll in the waitlist, which will help show the high demand and interest. Currently there are 250 on the waitlist, and you can join it too! The electric vehicle rebate program is a pilot program that incentives sustainable purchases. With a new electrical vehicle and a charging station, you can get a $2,500 rebate. A $500 rebate is offered for a charging station at home. Other rebates include dealership discounts and federal tax incentives. The low income energy efficiency pilot program partners with community philanthropies to educate and assist with homeowners with incomes at or below $32,000. The program allows professionals to go to each customer’s home in order to assess and fix any problems that decreases efficiency. Although this program is only for homeowners, the program wants to provide data that will potentially create a program for rental property as well. Overall, these programs can offer so much to our community!
Insight to Community Organizing with Paul Turner
Influenced by the investigative process in Robert Caro’s article “The Secrets of Lyndon Johnson’s Archives,” Paul Turner led a captivating discussion about different strategies for community organizing. 50 members of our community gathered to learn methods that will positively benefit our community in the future. Turner identified persistent curiosity as an imperative method to thoroughly research and seek truth. People must ask deeper questions such as “Why are things the way they are?” and “Who is benefiting from this?” From here, people can listen and organize people to take the needed action. Turner analyzed the etymology of the term “self interest” as “to be among and between.” Here, interests are natural and important. Often, however, these interests can be competing, but a community can align the individual interests into one common interest. A community can also utilize local knowledge to understand everyone’s needs more than others can, such as expert knowledge. This emphasis on community can help us come together as brothers and sisters to listen, research, and take action towards a common goal. We believe Sarah Tooley, a sophomore Creighton student, said it best when she stated that these “community practices can be translated into different scenarios in my life now and in the future.” These strategies cannot only be used for organizing work within the community, but aspects of one’s everyday life as well. It has proven to be beneficial time and time again, especially throughout the history of OTOC. We look forward to the next Summer Training Seminar July 8th where we will learn more about community organizing.
What’s in the Rental Housing Inspection Ordinance?
The Housing Issue Cafe provided an overview of the housing coalition’s long and hard work for housing advocacy. The new mandatory housing registration and inspections ordinance was explained, but there was a huge focus on what we as a community need to do next. The ordinance is only one step of many to create better affordable housing for Omaha. One huge emphasis was the need to create a plan for what to do when the tenants’ homes are not following up to code and tenants are displaced. What agencies are responsible? Where can the tenants be relocated? What does this mean about options for affordable housing? With five different speakers and about 45 people present, the Urban Abbey was filled with motivated and empowered people with the same good: provide affordable and decent housing for the Omaha community.
Next Steps you can take for healthy, safe housing in Omaha:
The American Dream and Promise Act, H.R. 6, passed in the House of Representatives on June 4
The bill passed with a 237-187 vote. Only seven republicans supported the bill, including our Omaha-area representative, Don Bacon. IPL has worked with leaders from the TPS association of Nebraska and OTOC Immigration Action Team to build relationships with elected officials and help communities across Omaha get to know their immigrant neighbors. In 2019 alone, leaders met with Rep. Bacon, attended town halls, and called countless times to build a relationship with him, have him get to know the TPS recipients and Dreamers in his district so that he ultimately supported this bill. Other positive community out reach and pressure is effective in making positive steps in the right direction (see this article about Chamber of Commerce support for Dreamers and TPS). Continue readying to see more about how relationship-building helped influence Don Bacon’s vote and the outcome of this bill.
“They’re in no man’s land, and we should provide them some security,” Bacon said. “I’ve committed to these guys that I would not forget them.”
Om May 7, the OTOC Immigration team and the TPS Committee secured a meeting with Rep. Bacon to renew his commitment to support legislation granting permanent status to TPS holders. Rep. Bacon continued to encourage community education about TPS and reaffirmed his support for TPS. He committed to vote for a “clean” Dream and Promise Act, the only current legislation that would have a path to citizenship for TPS holders. He fulfilled this promise on June 4 by voting FOR H.R. 6!
Nuestro entrenamiento es un taller en el estilo de un retiro. Asistir es gratis. Proveemos materiales y comida. Solo hay que registrarse. Incluye Misa el domingo. Este entrenamiento se ha hecho por tres años en: El Valle del Rio Grande, TX; Dallas, TX; Portland, OR; Des Moines, IA; y Albuquerque, NM.
Temas de Desarrollo de Liderazgo
• Entendiendo nuestro llamado de San Pablo para ser el Cuerpo de Cristo
• Que es la Misión de la Iglesia
• Presiones sobre las familias
• Aprender a escuchar con atención y encontrar nuevos líderes
• El poder que viene de ser creados a semejanza y imagen de Dios
• El Desafío del Liderazgo: Moisés y Jetro
• Cualidades de los líderes reflejados en las Bienaventuranzas
• Desarrollar un equipo para hacer el trabajo de la Iglesia
Leadership Training for Spanish-Speaking Communities
June 21-22, Friday from 5:30-8:30, Saturday from 9-7:30 College of St. Mary 700 Mercy Rd. Omaha, NE 18106
Sponsored by Catholic Campaign for Human Development & Interfaith Education Fund. Locally coordinated by Omaha Together One Community and Institute for Public Leadership.
This retreat-like workshop is free, with materials & meals provided. Sunday Mass incorporated into Sunday Programing. This training has been done around the country in places like the Rio Grande Valley in Texas; Dallas, TX; Portland, OR; Des Moines, IA; Albuquerque, NM and is now available in Omaha!
LEADERSHIP DEVELOPMENT TOPICS:
Understanding our call from St. Paul to be the Body of Christ.
Our Baptism and the Mission of the Church
Pressures on Families
Learning to listen carefully and to find new leaders
The Power that comes from being made in God’s Image
IPL hosted an event with OTOC Leaders and The National TPS Alliance of Nebraska Saturday April 6th for a bilingual workshop at First United Methodist Church. The event hosted over 75 people who were inspired by live testimonies of real TPS holders. Temporary Protected Status is an immigration status given to those who can not return to their countries of origins due to arm conflicts, natural disasters, epidemics, or any other temporary special conditions.
There were 2 workshops happening at the same time- one in Spanish for TPS recipients about how they could be a apart of the TPS Committee of Nebraska and work on advocacy efforts. The other session was for English speaking allies to learn about TPS and how to support our local immigrant families.
Both English and Spanish speakers who attended the event learned about the American Dream and Promise Act of 2019 which was presented to the House and the Dream Act and Secure Act in the Senate, which would provide long-overdue stability for Nebraska families and communities by offering a pathway to Permanent Residency and eventually Citizenship in the US for both DACA and TPS beneficiaries.
There were several opportunities to hear stories and speak individually with TPS recipients, and build relationships of friendship and support, as well as to take action with each other.
The event focused on 3 action steps that each attendee volunteered to take outside of the workshop that would create impact and awareness in our city.
By committing to making calls and sending letters/emails to Political Leaders in our community.(Talking Points; Support for Temporary Protected Status migrants and requesting leadership and co-sponsorship for Permanent Residency, To not remove the TPS program since it has helped refugees and immigrants since 1999 and can still save lives in the future, fight against deportation and family separation, legislative reform for immigration laws, provide immediate protections and authorizations for asylum seekers.)
Sharing the National TPS Mission and the testimonies of TPS holders to other Organizations, congregations, and schools, helps show light to this economically impacting issue.
Attending other immigration events and planning meetings. The next Immigration and Refugee Action Team meeting is April 22 at 6 pm at Augustana Lutheran Church (3647 Lafayette Ave.)
35 leaders met at Urban Abbey on February 28 to hear from Ken Smith, lawyer with Nebraska Appleseed about the state of payday lending in Nebraska. With the passage of LB 194 in last year’s legislative session, a few small steps were made to close a loop hole that could allow payday lenders to register as “Credit Service Organizations,” give a once-a-year payment plan option, and require more reporting to the Nebraska Department of Banking. The first report came out in December 2019 (view it here). See our analysis here of what this report shows about the status of where payday lending happens, how many loans are made, what people have to pay, and the average percent rate of 404%.
Ken Smith also asked supporters to practice how to respond to common arguments for payday lenders:
Payday lenders offer a valuable service to people who can’t go to other lines of credit.
Response: This is a good notion, but the issue is that fees are too high and don’t follow the basic parameters of other loan products. There is a lack of transparency in what you are signing on to and what your options are.
There are no alternatives to these types of loans
Response: There are some loan alternatives from some credit unions and nonprofits. See the Community Hope FCU in Lincoln and a nonprofit start-up in Omaha (still working on getting their credentials to offer low-interest loans)
Government should not make a habit of putting an industry out of business. The market should regulate itself.
We are not trying to put payday loans out of business, but just putting in reasonable requirements on loans. If you can’t meet those requirements, maybe you shouldn’t be in business. The Legislature actually exempted these companies from usury laws, which all other lenders have to follow, so we just want payday lenders to follow the same rules as everyone else.
The evening started with a few minutes of the Frontline documentary Last Days of Solitary which shows the Maine solitary confinement system and the changes they’re made. The film really shows the inhumane conditions prisoners live in when they are considered a treat to other prisoners and staff, and are put in what Nebraska calls “Restrictive Housing.” Restrictive housing is defined as less than 12 hours out of the cell in a week. In Nebraska, the cells are 8 ft. by 10 ft. and include a bed, desk, toilet, and chair. Because of the massive overcrowding, inmates in restrictive housing are often doubled up in the small cell. There are currently 325 inmates in restrictive housing in Nebraska, and ten have serious diagnosed mental health issues.
Climate Change Issue Cafe
60 people gathered on February 26 to hear from Stonie Cooper, a state climatologist and meteorologist, about climate change and it’s affect on Nebraska
Rental Housing Coalition Issue Cafe
40 people gathered at the Urban Abbey for an issue cafe about the current status of code enforcement and efforts for proactive policy change. OTOC leaders and housing coalition partners presented how the current code enforcement system works (and doesn’t work), the proactive registration and inspection policy we promote, what ordinances and policies are being drafted and discussed by local and sate policy makers, and how we as citizens can a raise a voice to be a part of that policy decision. Attendees heard from Beth, a tenant recently displaced from her home because of substandard conditions. If Beth’s rental home had been inspected regularly and the landlord keeping up the property, Beth and her daughter would still have a home and fewer major health problems due to mold and cockroaches. Erin Feichtinger of Together explained the politics of the current situation- LB 85 still sits waiting for a vote in the legislature, with Omaha City Council and the Mayor drafting various ordinances. Until the ordinances become public, we still encourage community members to call their city council member and their senator affirming the need for rental inspections, so that as proposals are brought forth, all policy makers know what Omaha needs. The city council will be hearing several ordinances on March 5.
Solitary Confinement and its Affects on Mental Health Issue Cafe
Seventy-five IPL, OTOC and community leaders heard from Doug Koebernick about Solitary Confinement in Nebraska and the harmful affects concentrated isolation has on mental health on February 5th
There are many factors that lead to having such a large number of inmates in restricted housing:
Restricted housing is supposed to be for the protection of other inmates and staff, so you get put in when you’ve done something dangerous. There is no set amount, you just get reevaluated every 90 days on if it is safe to bring you back to the general population. 114 inmates have been there for over 180 days. Some inmates do not know why they have been sent there, and are not able to advocate for themselves.
Overcrowding and the older facilities that have less common and classroom spaces have lead to less programming available for any type of restorative justice approach to help people before they get sent to solitary, while they are in there to get out faster, or for any sort of reintegration process.
Overcrowding leads to many more issues like less oversight and lack of space to attempt any type of reform. The state penitentiary is twice as full as it was designed for, and also has twice the number of staff.
Negative Effects of Restrictive Housing:
Psychological damage and mental health from lack of human contact and extreme boredom. Often leads to self mutilation.
Impacts future behavior. Though this is supposed to be for the safety of others, the failing mental health while they are in can lead to more violence when they get out.
Disproportionately affects Spanish and Native American inmates.
Negative impacts on staff safety and mental health as well as retention and recruitment.
Links to more info on Solitary and the Frontline Documentary:
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
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.
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. WOWT, KETV, Omaha World Herald, Lincoln Journal Star and 1011 Now all provided news coverage of the hearing.
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.