action alerts and events

#GivingTuesdayNow - May 2020

Statement on Water Justice during COVID-19 Relief and Recovery - April 2020

Statement on Water Justice during COVID-19 Relief and Recovery - April 2020

 Thank you for your giving back to CEER on this #GivingTuesdayNow. During this unprecedented time, CEER feels the urgency to address fairness and make sure race and class don’t determine your health during global crises like COVID19 or climate change. We know that it’s not about going back to “normal” because normal created the conditions we see today. 

Statement on Water Justice during COVID-19 Relief and Recovery - April 2020

Statement on Water Justice during COVID-19 Relief and Recovery - April 2020

Statement on Water Justice during COVID-19 Relief and Recovery - April 2020

We ask you to extend this moratorium through September 30 and protect Houstonians’ access to water throughout the COVID-19 crisis by adopting the recommendations outlined below. 

Statement on City/County Environmental Justice Working Group - April 2020

Statement on Water Justice during COVID-19 Relief and Recovery - April 2020

Statement on City/County Environmental Justice Working Group - April 2020

 CEER is encouraged that action 20.1 in the Resilient Houston plan is to “Coordinate environmental justice actions with partners. To better align existing and new efforts, the City of Houston and Harris County will form an Environmental Justice Working Group. This group of government stakeholders, advocate stakeholders, academic institutions, and industry partners will coordinate and collaborate with community members on program and policy recommendations to mitigate environmental injustices. 

Organizing Movement for Equity CDBG-MIT Funds - Jan 2020

Organizing Movement for Equity CDBG-MIT Funds - Jan 2020

Statement on City/County Environmental Justice Working Group - April 2020

  

The HOME Coalition and the Coalition for Environment, Equity and Resilience (CEER) appreciate the opportunity to provide comments on the State of Texas Hurricane Harvey Action Plan for Community Development Block Grant funds for Mitigation allocated by Federal Register Notice on August 30, 2019. 

 

CEER Consent Decree - Sept 2019

Organizing Movement for Equity CDBG-MIT Funds - Jan 2020

CEER on Houston's Climate Action Plan - Aug 2019

CEER developed in the Greater Houston region shortly after Hurricane Harvey, when community members and leading non-profits recognized that philanthropic entities were being 

relied upon to fill gaps in environmental enforcement, monitoring, community education, and coordination. From issues of affordable housing, to  transparency in how emergency management dollars are being spent, CEER continues to drive community voices into the post-Hurricane Harvey decision-making process to promote equity and resilience.

CEER on Houston's Climate Action Plan - Aug 2019

Organizing Movement for Equity CDBG-MIT Funds - Jan 2020

CEER on Houston's Climate Action Plan - Aug 2019

 CEER’s 8 point plan calls for the creation of a CAP. We applaud the City for its efforts. CEER supports the adoption of the Houston Climate Action Plan (CAP) as an important framework for the City of Houston to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. 

HCFCD '18 Bond Project Prioritization Framework - Feb 2019

HCFCD '18 Bond Project Prioritization Framework - Feb 2019

HCFCD '18 Bond Project Prioritization Framework - Feb 2019

We commend Harris County for being thoughtful in designing a process to prioritize bond projects that holds equity at its core. CEER has a shared value of protecting the public from flooding, making the most of our limited resources and ensuring success and transparency for the voters who approved the bond. This as an historic opportunity to make our County more resilient and we appreciate the chance to submit comments. 

#giving tuesday now MAY 2020 campaign

#giving tuesday now MAY 2020 campaign

Your generous donation will fuel our efforts to rewrite the rules in the greater Houston region. CEER looks forward to sharing our success in advancing policy solutions that protect communities of color who carry the burden of pollution, flooding, and lack of proper investment.  We fight for a new equitable “normal."  

CEER Houston COVID-19 Relief and Recovery Czar STATEMENT

April 24, 2020


Delivered via email: mayor@houstontx.gov, marvin.odum@houstontx.gov 


Mayor Sylvester Turner, City of Houston

Marvin Odum, Houston COVID-19 Relief and Recovery Czar


Dear Mayor Turner and Mr. Odum:


We write as members and partners of the Coalition for Environment, Equity, and Resilience, a group of non-profit organizations and community-based advocates working collaboratively to promote equity and resilience in disaster recovery by emphasizing land, water, air, waste, housing, and transportation policies that reduce human exposure to pollution and strengthen environmental conservation. We thank you, Mayor Turner, for showing leadership and compassion by committing to not disconnect any Houston household’s water through April 30. We ask you to extend this moratorium through September 30 and protect Houstonians’ access to water throughout the COVID-19 crisis by adopting the recommendations outlined below.


Our city’s moratorium on water shut-offs reflects that our health depends on something basic: each individual’s ability to wash their hands and access safe, clean drinking water. Since this moratorium began, the crisis has become more serious in our region. The greater Houston area has identified more COVID-19 cases and reported more COVID-related deaths than any other city in Texas. Harris County’s recent breakdown of cases by zip code shows that the disease has spread across almost the entire city. 


But in certain Houston zip codes, people are more vulnerable to COVID-19, according to the UT School of Public Health’s analysis of factors like age and preexisting health conditions. The prognosis for residents of these largely black and brown neighborhoods becomes more dire when you consider the compounding effects and inequities of flooding and ozone pollution, together with factors such as no paid leave or the inability to work from home, explains Robert Bullard of Texas Southern University in a recent interview on COVID-19’s health disparities in Texas Monthly. The Houston Chronicle’s Editorial Board recently reinforced Bullard’s warning. A recent report by the NAACP Legal Defense Fund suggests these same communities may also be most vulnerable to water disconnections


Mark Rubio, a 58-year old resident of Southeast Houston, and County Team Leader with the Texas Organizing Project, has been diagnosed with a chronic inflammatory lung disease, high blood pressure, and an enlarged liver – all conditions making him at highest risk for serious illness from the novel coronavirus. His health condition has left him unable to work consistently. Too young to qualify for assistance through Houston’s W.A.T.E.R. fund, he has not been able to pay his water bill since September 2019. He is in the process of obtaining SSI benefits, but does not expect to receive approval until at least May, if at all.  Meanwhile, Mr. Rubio is continuing the slow, years-long process of repairing his home, which suffered major mold damage after Hurricane Harvey. This month, even after the moratorium was announced, Mr. Rubio received notice that his water will be shut off on April 22. While he was able to find a private organization to help him, this assistance offers only a temporary reprieve. While the COVID-19 crisis continues, he is unlikely to be able to pay his water bills and will face the prospect of a shut-off again soon. For Mr. Rubio, losing access to water during this time would be devastating. 


More now than ever, continued access to water is absolutely critical to slowing the spread of COVID-19 in our region. We commend the decision to halt water disconnections through the end of this month. To support residents like Mr. Rubio during this crisis and make sure Houston’s communities do not continue to feel the impacts of the COVID-19 crisis long after it is over, we urge you to take additional steps to protect the public’s health. 


The following recommendations are designed to address water vulnerability now and in the coming months. We ask that you implement these recommendations immediately. As the City evaluates how to make water affordable and accessible during this crisis, and beyond, we welcome the opportunity to serve as the City’s thought partners and draw on our internal expertise and nationwide partnerships.


1.   Extend the local moratorium on water disconnections until at least       

     September 30.


Over the last several weeks, we have learned more about the spread of COVID-19. We now know that safety measures like frequent hand-washing and staying home are needed beyond the end of April. Temporary protections like the moratorium therefore must be extended to adequately protect the public’s health and well-being. We urge you to extend the moratorium through September 30. 


Other governmental bodies across the State of Texas have issued similar moratoriums on utility shut-offs. The Public Utility Commission of Texas has banned private electric and water utilities from cutting off water for residential customers who have filed for unemployment through September 26. The City of Austin has extended its moratorium on water shut-offs through the end of September. The City of Dallas and the San Antonio Water System have suspended shut-offs indefinitely while the COVID-19 crisis is underway. 


To adequately protect Houstonians during this crisis, Houston should commit to a moratorium on shut-offs through the end of September. To avoid confusing notices being sent to any ratepayers (like Mr. Rubio), the City should instruct Houston Water, and any contractors working with Houston Water, not to send out automated disconnection notices during this time. This will ensure Houstonians have continued access to water through our notoriously hot summers, as well as the peak of hurricane season. 


2.   Waive reconnection fees and help people turn water back on immediately.


The moratorium on water shut-offs does not help local residents whose water had already been turned off. We strongly recommend that the City turn these residents’ water back on as soon as possible and waive reconnection fees.


While the current number of people without water is unknown, Houston Public Media reported in 2012 that as many as 22,000 Houston residents were vulnerable to having their water shut off. Having thousands of people without water during this crisis is unconscionable. Unless the City restores service to these residents, all Houstonians will face greater vulnerability to COVID-19. As Houstonians are being instructed to stay at home and wash their hands frequently, they must be guaranteed the essential services to keep them and their families safe. We urge the City of Houston to proactively and safely restore service to all residents currently experiencing a shut-off and waive any reconnection fees. 


It is critical that restorations be conducted as soon as possible and in a manner that fully protects public health. We ask the City of Houston to complete restorations as soon as possible, and by no later than May 8, two weeks from today. While residents await reconnection of their water services, we urge the City to deliver water to their homes. To remove financial barriers to reconnecting water, the City should waive reconnection fees. 


Last, water that has stagnated in plumbing can expose residents to dangerous levels of lead and pathogens. To ensure reconnection occurs safely, the City should provide information in multiple languages to residents about properly flushing pipes after service is restored, like those disseminated by local media following February’s massive water main break.


3.   Delay rate hikes, do not charge late fees, suspend collection activities for overdue bills, and guarantee extended repayment plans for past due bills.


To avoid penalizing Houstonians who already are feeling a financial burden during this crisis, we ask you to suspend all rate hikes, charge no late fees, and postpone all collection activities for overdue bills through at least September 30. We also ask that at the end of this crisis, you place any accounts that are past due on extended repayment plans to maximize the opportunity for all Houstonians to have access to safe, clean water over the long-term.


4.   Make water more affordable for low-income residents. 


The economic toll of this pandemic on local residents is immense. Across our local economy, residents have lost wages and jobs. Many families will struggle to pay for essential services, including access to running water. Even before this crisis, water was becoming increasingly unaffordable for low-income households across the nation. In Houston, for a family of four using 400 gallons per day, water rates increased by 68% from 2010 to 2018. 


It is very likely that many Houston residents unable to pay their water bills during the COVID-19 crisis will be unable to pay off their bill once the crisis is over. We urge the City of Houston to forgive all water bills for residents at or below 100% of AMI who are unable to pay their bills during this crisis. To maximize participation among eligible residents, the City should use a process that allows flexibility and is not overly onerous.


To offset the costs of forgiving water bills, the Mayor should take all steps possible to support current federal efforts to allocate funds toward water bill forgiveness and water infrastructure improvements. (See number 5 below.) 


5.   Support nationwide efforts to secure more federal funds for water utilities.


Members of Congress currently are negotiating potential stimulus packages that would allocate billions of dollars to utilities for lost revenue. Supporting this measure would allow the City of Houston to forgive unpaid water bills without financial recourse. 


To understand what assistance is needed for water and other utilities, members of Congress have requested more information about shut-offs and residents’ inability to pay their water bills. At its earliest convenience, the City of Houston should compile this information and share it with local members of Congress and also express support for this funding.


6.   Investigate need for, and commit to resolving, other gaps in water access. 


The recommendations above will resolve many immediate obstacles to water access and affordability during this crisis. But for some Houston residents to have access to water, the solution may not be as simple as restoring water service. We urge the City of Houston to evaluate whether any other communities within city limits, such as the City’s homeless populations and other socially isolated groups, may need other forms of assistance during this crisis and take necessary steps to secure these communities’ access to safe, clean water.


7.   Publish information about local water shut-offs on the Houston Water website.


To make sure residents are aware of the moratorium and the City’s other efforts to guarantee water to all Houston residents, the City of Houston should immediately publish the following information on its Houston Water website, in press releases, and on its social media pages:

  • An explanation for the moratorium and need for financial assistance for residents
  • Start and end date of moratorium
  • How to apply for financial assistance
  • How to turn water back on without paying reconnection fees
  • How to flush water once reconnected


To allow communities to understand the benefits provided by the City of Houston, the City should also publish this information on a monthly basis through the end of the crisis:

  • Number of households with water turned off before the start of the moratorium 
  • Number of residents whose water has been turned back on
  • Number of residents who applied for financial assistance
  • Number of residents who qualified for financial assistance
  • Sources of funding for financial assistance

                             

                                                                   ***

Thank you again for your early action in imposing a moratorium on water shut-offs. By extending the moratorium and taking additional steps to secure residents’ access to water during the pandemic, you will protect the public’s health and make sure Houston’s communities do not continue to feel the impacts of the COVID-19 crisis long after it is over. 


If you would like to discuss any of these recommendations, you may contact Iris Gonzalez, CEER’s Coalition Director, at 414-915-5196 or iris@ceerhouston.org.


Sincerely,


The Coalition for Environment, Equity, and Resilience

Air Alliance Houston

Bayou City Waterkeeper

Coalition of Community Organizations

Environment Texas

Harvey Forgotten Survivors Caucus

Earthea Nance, PhD, PE, CFM, HBCU Climate Change Consortium

Healthy Gulf

H.O.M.E. Coalition

Katy Prairie Conservancy

LINK Houston

Mi Familia Vota

NAACP, Environment and Climate Justice Committee

Public Citizen

SEIU Texas

Sierra Club, Houston Regional Group

Sierra Club, Lone Star Chapter

Sierra Club, National

Texas Appleseed

Texas Campaign for the Environment

Texas Health & Environment Alliance

Texas Housers

Texas Organizing Project

Turtle Island Restoration Network

West Street Recovery


Copy sent by email to: 

Marissa Aho, Chief Resiliency Officer, City of Houston, marissa.aho@houstontx.gov

Yvonne Forrest, Deputy Director, Houston Water, PUDDeputyDirector@houstontx.gov 

Carol Haddock, Director, Houston Public Works, publicworks@houstontx.gov  

Ceer Environmental Justice Working Group statement

April 23, 2020

Ms. Marissa Aho 

Chief Resilience Officer

Office of Mayor Sylvester Turner 

City of Houston 

611 Walker, 13th Floor 

Houston, TX 77002 

Via Email: marissa.aho@houstontx.gov 


Re: Comments for a Successful Environmental Justice Working Group, an action of the City of Houston’s Resilient Houston Plan    


Dear Ms. Aho:  

  

The Coalition for Environment, Equity and Resilience (CEER) is a collaboration of twenty five non‐profit organizations that work cooperatively to raise awareness of the connection between pollution, place and the public’s health. CEER and our members participated in the creation of the Resilient Houston strategy and want to be considered thought partners in its implementation. We are encouraged that you are moving forward on strategies in the plan and want to prioritize one in particular.   


CEER is encouraged that action 20.1 in the Resilient Houston plan is to “Coordinate environmental justice actions with partners. To better align existing and new efforts, the City of Houston and Harris County will form an Environmental Justice Working Group. This group of government stakeholders, advocate stakeholders, academic institutions, and industry partners will coordinate and collaborate with community members on program and policy recommendations to mitigate environmental injustices.


"CEER’s own eight‐point plan calls on decision makers to" Develop a regional body, adopted in partnership with community and environmental groups that operates under principles of equity, to address pollution, place, and the public’s health.” Successful implementation of this action is significant for communities who are disproportionately harmed by the legacy of environmental racism.      


The Environmental Justice Working Group has the potential to be an innovative and game‐changing solution that can institutionalize long‐term systems change in our region. Achieving this comes down to how the group is structured, what values it adopts, who serves on it, how community voice is    represented, what scope it has, and who facilitates the process. We are writing today to share best practices and recommendations to help define what success looks like for this body. We would also like to sit down with you, and any others, who will be leading the implementation of this Environmental Justice Working Group to co‐design the approach, answer questions you may have about the information provided in this letter, and collaborate on next steps. 


Values of the Environmental Justice Working Group: It is imperative that the Working Group adopt and follow a set of guiding principles and values to articulate how it will navigate decision‐making, discussion, action and be accountable to impacted community members. Environmental justice communities, advocacy groups and other stakeholders are not interested in being complicit with oppression and do not want to engage in tokenism.   


We suggest you adopt a set of principles and values, borrowing from the various Environmental Justice principles linked below. Once adopted, the agreed upon principles will serve as “rules of engagement” for the Working Group. These are helpful resources: 


          ● Principles of EJ, Jemez Principles for Democratic Organizing ‐ six     

             concrete practices for how to live out inclusivity and justice.   

          ● https://therightsofnature.org/cochabama‐rights/ ‐ a global agreement on 

             the rights of people and the rights of Mother Earth.   


Purpose of a Working Group: A successful Environmental Justice Working Group shall take on the following in its scope and purpose: 

1. Educate the City of Houston and Harris County on environmental justice and how it intersects with the scope of multiple departments as well as the City’s plans, practices and policies. 

2. Recommend policies and actions that ensure environmental justice at the local level. 

3. Request actions of multiple departments to implement an environmental justice framework through intra‐ and inter‐departmental coordination. 

4. Provide impacted community members a forum where they are considered subject matter experts. Give communities direct access to decision‐makers to build authentic relationships. 

5. Create environmental justice action plans with measurable goals and metrics defined in collaboration with impacted residents.   

6. Advise the City of Houston and Harris County on methodology, timeline and approach to address legacy issues of environmental racism. Look to the future to inform local government response to climate change, pollution, and natural and manmade disasters.   


Role of facilitator: The importance of a third‐party, skilled, independent facilitator cannot be emphasized enough. We anticipate that the conversations this group will surface will be uncomfortable, complex, and nuanced. They will require a strong facilitator who can build trust and ensure the group dynamic remains high‐ functioning, effective and respectful. This includes the ability to: 

          ● Guide honest and difficult discussions around institutional racism, environmental racism, and how to practice equity and racial justice at multiple levels of government. 

          ● Hold stakeholders accountable to recommended actions. 

          ● Create a space for meaningful learning and action. 

          ● Be patient to influence members to take steps that achieve lasting systems change (which will take time) but also move with urgency.  


In its first year, the EJWG shall: 

1. Craft a definition of what environmental justice means for the City of Houston and Harris County ‐ a place where we are unique in several ways. 

2. Examine the local legacy of environmental racism and its intersection with multiple issues to understand, “how did we get here?” 

3. Categorize and prioritize neighborhoods facing environmental justice issues, borrowing from best practices and using indicators that are nuanced and context‐specific. 

4. Identify coordinated government actions that can be taken in the short, medium, and long term by the City and County individually and together. Assign those actions to the appropriate department(s) within the first 60 days. 

5. Participate in an inventory of all task forces, working groups, and other bodies to understand the big picture opportunities and create a comprehensive strategy adopted at the top levels of government and mandated for implementation by all departments and agencies. 

6. Identify resources to sustain the work of the EJWG and provide trainings to City and County departments. 


Questions for success: 

1. How will the City and County resource this work? 

2. What are plans to include larger cities with EJ issues, such as Pasadena and Baytown? 

3. What do the City and County need the most help with to make this group effective? 


Library of Best Practices: We have assembled a few local and national best practices that will be useful in standing up the structure, scope and purpose of the Environmental Justice Working Group   


EJ Taskforce Outline   

Examples of EJ Ordinances nationally   

Bylaws for Re‐Imagined HCFCD Task Force   

SEATTLE EJ COMMITTEE AND EQUITY AGENDA 


Thank you again for your work towards creating a vision and strategy for resilience in the City of Houston and the region it sits within. Global crises like the covid‐19 pandemic highlight the importance and relevance of this work and accelerate its urgency. 


If you would like to discuss any of these recommendations, you may contact Iris Gonzalez, CEER’s Coalition Director, at 713‐331‐9913 or iris@ceerhouston.org


Sincerely,


Iris Gonzalez, Coalition Director 

CEER Climate Action Plan statement

                    Statement on City of Houston’s Climate Action Plan on the 

                                        50th Anniversary of Earth Day:


April 22, 2020


The Mayor’s release of a climate strategy is an important first step for the future of Houston’s people, but it falls short on addressing equity and how Houston will achieve a just transition. Houstonians already on the frontlines of the climate crisis are experiencing disproportionate impacts to health and safety. For them, an equitable implementation of the plan is a matter of life or death. Success should be defined by and with impacted community members, not industry leaders. Polluters, not people, should pay for clean up; vulnerable communities must be prioritized.


The Plan does not go far enough to lay the groundwork for a new Houston economy that protects the safety of workers, reconstructs with clean energy infrastructure and expands opportunities. We envision a Houston that takes on a just transition where we retrain everyone according to fair standards and prioritize action based on need, capacity and natural assets. Now is the time to challenge our economic structures to reflect our shared values of fairness and resilience. 


Crises that connect us on a global scale require us to take a collaborative approach that centers community voices and social justice. This pandemic shows us that our government has the resources to invest in our future now. Houston cannot afford to ignore what has been hiding in plain sight. We cannot repeat the national patterns of widening inequity in the wake of climate shocks.


Implementation of strategies to reduce green house gas emissions, increase solar and invest in transit must weave in the legacy of institutional and environmental racism. An equity scorecard should be created by frontline communities and impacted neighborhood leaders should be invited to guide implementation. As City Council votes to adopt actions in the Climate Action Plan, it should engage in a process to analyze existing and proposed policies through a lens of racial equity and climate justice. Every policy and funding decision should lead us to the future we want: a fair and just society where every one of us can thrive. Ensuring a comprehensive strategy turns into reality will require intentionality, holding hard conversations, embracing an orientation of learning and bold leadership.


We need leadership that understand how the history of redlining and racial segregation create the “pre-existing conditions” that harm our communities of color. Houston needs decision makers ready to act on the lessons we’ve learned from Katrina, Ike, Harvey and rewrite the rules to protect our most vulnerable. Today’s plan release is important but what happens next will define Houston for generations to come.