DAI issue campaigns emerge from a process that begins with conversations among leaders of DAI institutions. Being attuned to the community, leaders identify issues. Not complacent or easily daunted, and energized by a desire to transform hope into action, we form a group to research the problem. In time the group knows the background, defines the issue, and proposes a plan. With support from the rest of the organization, we authorize an issue team and inaugurate a campaign.
Quiet Leaders Pass "Toughest Landlord Rules in State"
In the spring of 2015, a small, empowered group of San Juan Diego parishioners, met to discuss improvements to their neighborhood, which included alleviating deplorable living conditions. After a year of public action, DAI church leaders confronted landlords, secured the support of allies, and negotiated with adversaries. A turning point was reached when DAI leaders met with representatives of the Apartment Association of Greater Dallas (AAGD) to negotiate points of disagreement. At the end of the day, AAGD stood with DAI in support of the new code, arguing that "poorly operated properties and slumlords bring down...the entire industry."
In October 2016 the housing code changed 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," and the new rules included "the strongest AC regulation in the state."
Since passing the newly revised housing code for the City of Dallas, DAI continues to work with residents and the city to ensure that the code is being enforced. We have made great strides in getting inspectors into the worst apartment complexes in the city.
Police & Community Relations
Before a packed audience of 700 leaders of DAI, and on the one-year anniversary of the shooting that took the lives of five police officers, DAI continued the public conversation about community relationships with the police in the context of SB4. In response to stories about immigrants fearful of reporting crimes they have witnessed to the police, Dallas Catholic Auxiliary Bishop Greg Kelly announced, "This is evidence of why SB4 is bad."
Assistant Police Chief Gary Tittle was asked to clarify how SB4 could work, given police need for witnesses and victim cooperation and the real fears immigrants have of reporting. Tittle explained that crime victims, witnesses and people calling 911 are exempt from questions about
The assembly took place as Dallas Police Department interviews for a new police chief were underway. Said Minister Jonathan Morrison of Cedar Crest Church of Christ, and DAI representative on the interviewing panel, “I think there is always progress anytime there can be first real dialog and conversation and when communities can begin to share of their struggles and we begin to see commonality in our struggles.” Addressing the diverse, multi-ethnic group present at the assembly, Morrison continued by saying, “Our fears come from different sources, but the results are the same in that there is fear," he said. "We all want to enjoy a quality of life that does not include a fear in law enforcement."
Religious leaders of DAI are working to develop a relationship of mutual accountability with the Dallas Police Department (DPD) to address fears faced by all sides. DAI organized thousands of individuals in this last year to understand their rights, build relationships with others, and develop a strategy to work with DPD to build trust. DAI plans to conduct a citizenship campaign that will naturalize 1000 new citizens by the end of 2018.
By establishing Skill Quest, DAI leaders created high quality job training that propels people earning poverty wages into high-demand jobs that pay a living wage, including benefits, for area residents.
DAI continued to support Skill Quest in the 2017 legislative session by working with state elected officials and the Texas Network of IAF Organizations to pass the ACE Fund, thus preserving $4.5 million. This fund provides grants to long-term high wage job training projects across the state. Since its inception, Skill Quest has served students and helped graduates raise their annual income from low-wage to more than $24.00 per hour. Mauricio Aguilar is one of the many success stories.
For almost ten years, Mauricio vacillated between dead-end tech jobs paying at times $10 per hour, putting in long hours to support his wife and four children. This went on until he "took Skill Quest up on its offer to help pay his tuition and certification fees." Within two years, an "IT company saw that he had gotten his certification and hired him on the spot as an IT net- work engineer, earning $45 an hour, with a better schedule."
Immigration and Worker Rights
On immigration and worker issues, DAI is working with city, county, local law enforcement, and the District Attorney within Dallas County around issues of wage theft and worker safety. These issues affect a wide range of people, but undocumented workers are most affected. These campaigns were launched in June 2014, when 500 DAI leaders came together at “A Cry for Immigration Reform and a Call to Local Action.” Tired of waiting on Congress to fix the nation’s immigration system, leaders were committed to working on local issues that affect undocumented immigrants.
DAI leaders are fighting to end wage theft, which includes not paying overtime, not paying minimum wage and even not paying a worker at all. DAI has worked with DPD to formalize a process for the reporting of wage theft. Since this process was created, DPD has institutionalized training for their officers across the city. Because of this work more perpetrators have been convicted of stealing wages and ordered to repay. Several have faced jail time as well. Wages have been recovered. As a result of our campaign, Dallas County is one of only two Texas counties to criminally prosecute perpetrators of wage theft.
The personal experiences of construction workers not receiving adequate water and rest breaks during the hot Texas summers prompted our Rest Break campaign. While the majority of contractors allow workers to rest, some don’t give workers this basic human right. Unfortunately there is no federal law mandating that construction workers be allowed a break. DAI is working with Dallas City Council members on an ordinance giving construction workers the right to a rest break every four hours, which would make Dallas only the second city in Texas with such an ordinance.
DAI continues to support expanded healthcare for those in the coverage gap. We worked with elected officials during the legislative session, testified at committee hearings, and we’re coordinating with county officials. Some DAI member organizations have approached Dallas County about becoming permanent sites for Affordable Care Act exchange signup opportunities. Until Texas devises a way to expand coverage with the funding provided by the ACA, the issue of access to healthcare will remain.