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Archive for April, 2018

Organizer Joe Higgs presents at Sustainability Leadership Presentation Series at Metro Community College

April 25th, 2018

Lead Organizer 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 OTOC 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 the presentation online, follow this link.

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

Pay Day Lending Reform has small victory this Legislative Session

April 25th, 2018

The OTOC Predatory Pay Day Lending Action Team has worked on reforming predatory lending in the last year by informing community members about the

Concerns about the ill effects of the payday loan industry on folks in Nebraska brought a dozen guests from 4 OTOC congregations to the home of Chuck and Gloria Austerberry in Legislative District 8. All were eager to understand how the system works and what we can do to limit how much profit can be made from people needing small amounts of money to meet emergency needs through passing LB 194 this session of the Unicameral.

debt trap that often happens when people take out predatory loans, and by promoting LB 194, Senator Tony Vargas’s pay day lending reform bill that was introduced to the Nebraska Unicameral in 2017 and didn’t make it out of committee until 2018. Through several house meetings and community education events, OTOC leaders explained why there needs to be limits on pay day loans- that people get stuck in a dept trap paying fees and never getting to pay off the principle. The community members who attend these events were encouraged to contact their state senators, especially those on the banking and finance committee, and encourage the elected officials to get LB 194 out of committee. LB 194 originally set limits on the amount of interest that could be incurred and would allow borrows to pay back the loans in partial payments rather than requiring the full value of the loan for repayment.

An amended version of LB194 was passed this unicameral session. This final version did not include a cap on fees and is just a small step in the right direction, but it is a step. More transparency is now required before someone agrees to the loan so they see a clear total on what they will be paying. There is also an option for borrowers to request an extended payment plan once every twelve months that would allow them to make smaller payments rather than pay the full cost at one time. The bill that passed also requires more reporting by lenders to the state Director of Banking and Finance. To read more about what the final version of LB194 does, click here.

Thank you to all leaders who attended house meetings or learned about the issue and contacted their senators.

Housing Action Team explores substandard rental housing in Omaha at Urban Abbey

April 10th, 2018

Nearly 40 people attended a discussion at Urban Abbey, focused on the problems of substandard rental units and what can be done about them. 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 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 reaches leaders new and old

April 9th, 2018

OTOC Lead Organizer 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 78 different leaders, including those who were new to organizing and those who are experienced, from over sixteen different congregations, including members from new OTOC congregations. Trainings were held in different locations throughout the city to allow many parts of the city to be involved.

 

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