400 Leaders Leverage Commitments from Dallas Police Chief

1611_-_DAI_-_Police_Action_-_Rev._Guy_and_Crowd.jpgDallas Area Interfaith leaders assembled by the hundreds at Temple of Faith CME to address neighborhood safety issues identified through conversations with fellow parishioners and neighbors: police protocol on traffic stops, wage theft, thousands of feral dogs, and hot spots for drugs and prostitution. Confronted with personal stories and strong community participation, Interim Police Chief David Pughes committed to developing a bilingual video on proper protocol that can be shown in congregations and to fundamentally changing how police handle wage theft — recognizing theft of service as a criminal matter and not a civil one. Leader after leader told personal stories about unfairly being treated as criminals during traffic stops and when reporting crimes.

At one point, addressing immigrants in the packed room Pughes said, “we don’t want to be immigration police.” The chief additionally committed to working with leaders to address three areas in the city that see high level of drugs and prostitution, as well as developing a plan for the 8,000 feral dogs roaming neighborhood streets.

 

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DAI Helps Stall Mass Evictions in W. Dallas

1610_-_DAI_-_Mass_Eviction_Community_Meeting_-_Cropped.jpgWithin days of Dallas Area Interfaith’s (DAI) stunning housing code victory, the owner of hundreds of single family rental homes in West Dallas, HMK,  sent eviction notices to 305 tenants ordering them to vacate the properties by the end of the month.  Dallas Morning News accuses HMK of making the tenants “pawns in the company’s scorched-earth fight against tough new housing policies.”

DAI, in collaboration with the Wesley Rankin Community school and center, organized a meeting to brief hundreds of worried renters about their rights as tenants, the basics of eviction law and to pressure the City of Dallas to intervene on tenants’ behalf.  Mayor Pro Tem Monica Alonzo, along with the Assistant City Attorney, assured renters that extra-legal evictions would not be tolerated.

The next day, the State District Judge Ken Molberg ordered the Dallas landlord to temporarily halt the mass evictions.  Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings exhorted affected residents to keep trying to pay rent, and if refused by the office, to set the money aside for when it would be.

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DAI Wins Strongest Tenant Protections in TX

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With three asthmatic children in the family, Patricia Vega (in photo above holding toddler in pink) was constantly on the lookout for mold.  "Every time we move, we think it gets better, but it does not."  After learning that the Dallas housing code offered no protections, she, with a group of women from San Juan Diego Catholic Church, enlisted the support of Dallas Area Interfaith (DAI) to change the law.  

During over a year of public action, DAI church leaders confronted landlords, secured the support of allies, negotiated with adversaries, and ultimately changed the housing code in a fundamental way.  Says Heather Way, a professor at University of Texas School of Law who specializes in affordable housing law, “These reforms are much needed and should have a big impact on protecting the health and safety of Dallas’s most vulnerable.”  FOX News calls the code the "toughest landlord rules in the state."   Said former code enforcement prosecutor, Councilmember Adam McGough, "this is unprecedented."

New protections include:

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DAI Winning on Dallas Housing Code Rewrite

1603_-_DAI_-_Housing_Leader_Interviewed_by_Press.JPGWith City Council signalling support for significant reforms in the Dallas rental housing code, Dallas Morning News gave kudos to Dallas Area Interfaith for keeping “these issues on the council’s radar and set[ting] the stage for many of the most important tweaks in the code.”  For the first time, the Dallas code would require inspections of the insides of single-family rentals and more frequent inspections of multi-family housing complexes.

Towards that end, the city manager’s proposed budget calls for hiring 15 additional code enforcement officers to handle the expanded responsibilities.

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Bishop Olson of Ft. Worth Congratulates North Texas IAF

Catholic_Diocese_of_Fort_Worth_Logo.jpgIn a letter addressed to ACT, AMOS, WeCAN and DAI, Catholic Bishop Michael Olson offered his congratulations to the organizations for their impact over the decades.  Specifically, he mentioned: 

  • passage of a payday lending ordinance in the City of Arlington
  • work with a local public hospital to expand access to a clinic program
  • leveraging of funds for city-wide after-school programming

Bishop Olson ended the letter with words of encouragement towards "improving the lives of the people of the Diocese of Fort Worth and Texas."

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Clergy: "We have to Humanize Each Other"

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In the midst of pushing for expanded community policing and pay increases for officers, Dallas Area Interfaith wants to get all sides listening to each other.

“We have to humanize each other,” said Rev. Jon Morrison of Cedar Crest Church of Christ. Lead Organizer Josephine Lopez-Paul noted there must be "conversations on race. You cannot separate race from dealing with the inequity in the community.”

[Photo Credit: Spencer Platt, Getty Images / FOX]

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DAI: "Build Trust for Better Policing"

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At a community meeting organized by Dallas Area Interfaith, there were no easy platitudes in reference to the Thursday night shooting of police officers and protesters that left five officers dead.  ”There is a repentance that has to happen in this nation,” preached Pastor Carl Sherman to the crowd gathered at Southern Hill Church of Christ.  More than a dozen officers, from six law enforcement agencies across the Metroplex, sat in the pews alongside civilians to hear their public service praised and critiqued.

“Building trust is how we are going to get better policing,” said Josephine Lopez-Paul, the lead organizer of Dallas Area Interfaith. Click here for statement.

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100+ Leaders Fight for Stricter Housing Rules at City Hall

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In a tightly packed special meeting of City Council, over 100 Dallas Area Interfaith leaders spilled into overflow areas in support of new regulations that would give greater protections to Dallas renters.  Leader Ericka Ventura (at podium in photo above) declared the organization’s support for proposed regulations that they had helped create, including more frequent inspections, higher standards for air conditioning and water heating, more explicit steps for mold remediation and stiffer penalties for landlords.

Dr. Barry Lachman, Asthma Coalition of Texas president (and leader with Beth Shalom) said he was “appalled” by what he saw in a tour of apartment complexes in the Bachman Lake area.

Rev. Jesus Belmontes of San Juan Diego Catholic Church argued that poor living conditions hurt children the most, asserting that Dallas “has failed its most vulnerable.”

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DAI Compels Housing Committee to Adopt Tougher Regulations

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Bachman Lake residents lined up at the podium with photos depicting bedbugs, mold, leaky windows and malfunctioning air conditioning — all of which came from a neighborhood inspection of apartments involving 60 resident leaders  – organized byDallas Area Interfaith.  On Monday, resident leaders held a press conference urging the city’s Housing Committee to adopt their recommendations in a bid to toughen up Dallas’ housing code.  One leader, Patricia Vega, has two children with asthma living in an apartment with mold in the bedroom and a broken window that leaks when it rains.  Said Dr. Barry Lachman, President of the Asthma Coalition of Texas and leader with Temple Shalom, “no family should ever have to live under the conditions we saw in Bachman Lake.”

The housing committee agreed, and city council will vote on the proposal next month.

Said one Dallas Morning News columnist:

“There was a time I thought of Dallas Area Interfaith as a well-intentioned moral voice for the downtrodden.  But now I am seeing a politically smart organization that is acting on…issues from payday loans to substandard housing.”

The fight started last fall, when a group of church women approached DAI to learn what their rights were.  Months later, and after several parish assemblies at San Juan Diego Catholic Church, resident leaders got a seat at the table.  They recommended that the city strengthen its minimum standards for rental housing by requiring that landlords pursue proper bedbug fumigation and mold cleanup when asked, and guarantee functioning air conditioning — particularly during summer months.  DAI also asked for improved record keeping, expanded inspections and more meaningful enforcement.

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DAI Takes on Landlords in Battle Over Mold and Crime

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“It all started with a group of women,” said Dallas Area Interfaith (DAI) organizer Walker Moore, that “wanted to know what their rights were.”  With the guidance of DAI, the ladies went on to organize several meetings — at local churches and in apartments — to formulate a strategy to address mold, dilapidation and crime.

In November, extra chairs had to be hauled out to accommodate 160 people who gathered at San Juan Diego Catholic Church at a meeting in which they brought specific issues with apartment conditions straight to the police chief and City of Dallas elected officials.  They and the audience listened with approval as Mayor Pro Tem Monica Alonzo and Roberto Garcia, a Dallas police senior corporal, vowed to help the residents.

DAI leaders have since submitted a list of the worst apartments they have seen to the city’s community prosecution code team, and are currently working altering the city code to increase the frequency of mandatory apartment inspections.

[Photo Credit: Nathan Hunsinger / Dallas Morning News]

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