Residents of Greenspoint to Apartment Managers: “No Rent for Unlivable Apartments”

Flood victim

Residents of Greenspoint-area apartments today organized with TOP to fight back against managers who are demanding full rent for severely damaged apartments and threatening to tow their cars.

“I have a pregnant wife and an eight-month-old daughter,” said Angel Lopez whose Woods of Greenbriar apartment flooded. “They can’t live here. The smell, the mold, the damage, this place is not livable. It doesn’t make sense to pay rent when repairs are not being done.”

The manager of The Woods of Geenbriar tried to downplay the damage to the apartments to the media, saying that the sheetrock and carpets damaged by the flood had been removed, and that as soon as the city inspects the apartments, he can start repairing the apartments.

But a look inside the first floor apartments revealed torn up apartments with exposed walls that reek of mold. One woman said the smell keeps her up at night. “The apartments are not livable.”

For many residents, losing their cars also meant losing income, either because they couldn’t get to work or because they used their cars to make a living.

TOP is now working with the city to move these residents out while the apartments are being repaired. And during that time, we are calling on managers to forgo rental payments until FEMA and insurance payments can be secured, said Tarsha Jackson, TOP’s Harris County director.

“First step in getting people back on their feet is finding them a suitable place to live,” Jackson said. “Then, the apartments’ repair should be expedited so they can return to their homes and lives. We are calling on the managers to waive rent for families in unsuitable conditions.”

After the press conference organized by TOP Saturday afternoon, several residents were moved to hotels. Relocation efforts will continue until every person who needs suitable housing has it.

The letter to apartment managers detailing demands. 

Pictures of the press conference and damaged apartments.

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A Life Without Papers

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HOUSTON — THE birth certificates for my children, born here eight and four years ago. The receipts that prove I paid property taxes on the trailer home where we used to live. My children’s medical records. A stack of documents that show I’ve lived in Texas for more than 12 years, and that my son and daughter are United States citizens.

I keep all these papers in a drawer next to my bed, so I will have easy access to them as soon as I need them. These are the documents that were supposed to allow me to apply for a new program, Deferred Action for Parents of Americans — the documents that would protect me, for a time, from deportation, and give me some relief from the constant fear that comes with life as an undocumented immigrant.

“Why do you need those papers?” my son asks me one day in January, as he watches me search through plastic bags and backpacks I’ve kept for years on the top shelf of my closet, looking for one more bill, one more certificate, one more piece of paper that might help with applications for my husband and me.

He knows I’ve kept the television tuned to Univision ever since President Obama announced his executive action in November. I listened closely as the news anchor Jorge Ramos explained the application requirements, and realized we qualified. I was watching when, two weeks ago, a federal judge here in Texas put a temporary stop to the program. Now I am waiting to see what happens next.

My son doesn’t understand why I am so anxious. He is 8 years old. He has a Social Security number and could travel out of the country if he wanted.

So I tell him: I want to be able to travel, too. I want to take him to the Rio Grande Valley, where his grandfather lives — the grandfather he has never met, because we need to pass an immigration checkpoint to get to that part of Texas. I want him to play with his abuelo under the tall palm trees that dot the landscape of that border town.

There is more, of course. I want to drive the short distance to the grocery store without worrying that the police car in the lane of traffic behind me is going to pull me over and demand documents I don’t have. I want to be able to look for a good job so that I can help provide for my family. I want to take my kids to school in the morning without worrying whether that day will be the last one I have with them.

Their childhood here in Houston is already so different from mine.

I was born and raised in Río Bravo in the Mexican state of Tamaulipas. I was 12 when my mother told me she couldn’t send me to school anymore. She needed me at home helping her with my siblings and keeping the house clean. When I was 17, one of my older sisters, who had already moved to Houston, invited me join her. She was 20 and asked me to take care of her baby so that she could work. Knowing there was little to lose, I crossed — without documents, but with my mother’s blessing.

I quickly realized that life as an undocumented person in the United States was not what I had imagined. Without documents, school did not make sense. The only job I could find was taking care of other people’s kids, earning me a few dollars in cash at the end of each day.

Eventually, I met my husband, also an undocumented immigrant from Mexico. He found work as a mechanic. We live with my in-laws and I currently stay home with our children. We have stitched together a beautiful family. But that’s 12 years of living cautiously, on the margins.

In November, it seemed we would be able to move, however slowly, out of those margins. We would have temporary relief. I gathered my documents together and kept them safe. We were prepared.

Then the judge put it all on hold. Everything we had been working toward — a break from life in the shadows — is now on pause, in limbo, maybe never to be a reality.

I allowed myself to feel a little disappointed and a little bit sad. But I am not going to let myself feel defeated. I am still trying to organize people to go to meetings so that they can be ready when the program moves forward.

I make phone calls, trying to get them to show up. I hear a lot of doubt. Why learn about a program that may never come to be?

I tell them what I have been telling myself: that we need to be prepared for when the good news comes. I have my documents ready, in that drawer near my bed. I’m not giving up hope.

Ehiracenia Vasquez is a member of the Texas Organizing Project, a partner of the Center for Popular Democracy. This article was translated by Mary Moreno from the Spanish.

Story originally appeared in the New York Times. 

TOP Members Fight to Defend ACA

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Houstonians depend on federal subsidies to afford ObamaCare plans

Claudette Newsome believes her health is the most important thing she can give her two daughters.

Within the last five years, her husband died of cancer and her son died in an accident. The coverage she bought for herself and her children through the federal health insurance marketplace will ensure Newsome, a self-employed project manager and consultant, can get the care she needs to be there for her girls, she said.

On Wednesday, Newsome, 42, and her daughters, Alexandria, 14, and Zoe, 10, traveled from Houston to Washington, D.C., to rally in front of the Supreme Court as the justices heard oral arguments in King v. Burwell, the lawsuit challenging the subsidies issued to millions of people, including her, who bought coverage in the federal marketplace.

“I went to Washington to represent the 1.5 million people in Texas that have subsides,” Newsome said by phone as she prepared to head home. “There’s no way I could afford coverage without a subsidy. The girls would have to go back on the (Children’s Health Insurance Program) and I would be uninsured.”

Newsome’s family qualified for a $385 monthly subsidy to reduce the cost of her coverage, which allows her and her daughters to any doctor they choose. Their monthly premium is $184 per month.

“I am happy we have insurance and that I can afford it,” Newsome said. “It works for me and my family. I have to take care of myself. I have to stay strong for my girls.”

At issue in the lawsuit is whether the Internal Revenue Service can extend tax credits, better known as subsidies, to federal marketplace consumers, 87 percent of whom rely on them to make their monthly premiums more affordable.

The health law’s opponents say people, including Texans, who buy coverage through the federal marketplace are not entitled to subsidies because the law states subsidies are available to those enrolling through marketplaces “established by the State.”

Proponents argue the wording is flawed, saying the law was supposed to extend subsidies to all consumers.

Shala Russell, a full-time student at University of Houston-Downtown, says she could not afford even the minimal coverage she bought on the federal health insurance marketplace without the $180 monthly federal subsidy she received to reduce the cost of her plan.

At $28.55 a month, the plan Russell bought is affordable and gives her the coverage she needs in case she gets in a wreck or becomes ill, she said.

“I’m always afraid of getting into a car accident,” said Russell, 26, who drives to campus and around for her part-time hospice job. “I could end up at the hospital. It would cost thousands of dollars for the most minimal treatment if I didn’t have insurance. It’s very important to have insurance. The subsidy is the only way I can afford it.”

Russell said a persistent thyroid condition concerns her and she wants to stay on top of it. Her older brother was diagnosed with diabetes and Russell said she saw first-hand how relieved he was when he became insured and was able to care for himself.

Even if the cost of her plan rose to $50 a month, Russell said, her coverage would become too expensive.

“That would absolutely be a struggle for me,” she said. “I just would not have insurance. Living without it is kind of risky.”

Houstonian Aurora Harris said the potential loss of her $15 monthly subsidy would push her premiums to almost $209, which is more than she would like to spend but not insurmountable to maintain coverage.

“Anything helps,” said Harris, a senior outreach navigator for Houston’s Lesbian Health Initiative. “For me, it would be OK. But it would absolutely not be OK for 87 percent of the people who qualified for subsides. These are people who have families.”

She often talks about how an estimated 150,000 lesbian, bisexual, gay and transgender people in the Houston area are uninsured and urges them to enroll in coverage.

Harris, 26, first bought coverage in 2014 and qualified for a $56 monthly subsidy. However, a premium increase pushed her to buy less expensive 2015 coverage. She also earned more money, which lowered her subsidy, Harris said.

Harris knows she could have bought less expensive coverage but selected a more expensive plan because of the coverage and doctors it included. She developed her passion for educating people about the need for health coverage after watching her uninsured mother suffer from lupus, an autoimmune disease, she said.

“(The Affordable Care Act) has made a huge difference, especially for people with pre-existing conditions,” she said. “I always think about that.”

Analysis by various health care consultants and think tanks show an estimated 8 million people would become uninsured without insurance subsidies, which the government directly pays to insurers. Those left in the individual health insurance market would face staggering premium increases to cover the costs of the sickest people, who would most likely continue to buy insurance to maintain the medical coverage they need.

“Those premiums will be unaffordable for most people who bought insurance through their state marketplace,” said Vivian Ho, health economics chair for Rice University’s Baker Institute, in a written statement.

“The repercussions of 8 million people suddenly losing health insurance would reverberate throughout the health care system.”

Dametria Myles said she is convinced she would not be able to afford the coverage she bought after losing her job last fall without a subsidy. Myles, 48, of Stafford qualified for a $273 monthly subsidy to lower the cost of her premium. She pays $59 per month for a plan that includes vision and dental coverage as well as medical coverage.

“I am trying to live as normal as possible,” said Myles, a social worker. “It’s important to me to have access to the services I’m accustomed to. You just don’t know what could happen.”

She said she would like to keep the plan after she gets a new job, if it remains affordable.

Story originally appeared in the Houston Chronicle.