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VOICE leaders met Aug. 27th with Gov. Ralph Northam to talk about VOICE's work on criminal justice reform, schools and keeping families together in our immigrant and Muslim communities.The Governor participated in VOICE's 1,385-person assembly on Oct. 21st and committed to work with VOICE and the Attorney General on cash bail reform. He also acknowledged the needs VOICE identified for increased spending on school mental health resources for students and for greater investment in affordable housing. He recognized VOICE for our role in winning additional Metro funding and an increase in the felony threshold level in the last General Assembly session. Next up: A meeting with the Governor before the start of the 2019 General Assembly session to talk about moving forward on criminal justice reforms, including cash bail.

Housing Affordability:  On April 3, four powerful VOICE speakers, joined by 36 VOICE Arlington leaders, made compelling cases to the county board of supervisors for affordable-housing funding in next year's Arlington County budget. One speaker, a resident who has worked with Arlington Public Schools for 21 years, testified that despite holding a second job she spends more than 60% of her income on rent.

On April 21, the Arlington County Board of Supervisors approved an FY 2019 budget that adds $600,000 to the AHIF affordable housing trust fund, bringing the fund’s total to $14.3 million. This is lower than the $15 million VOICE and others had asked for but higher than the amount proposed in a year of numerous budget cuts, so Arlington VOICE leaders view this as a victory over the odds.

At the same April 21 meeting, the board voted unanimously to approve a new committed-affordable development site plan — despite some neighborhood opposition — for a mix of townhomes and apartments that the Wesley Housing Development Corp. will build, just off of Rte. 50, creating 97 new units and preserving another 63 units, all affordable.

 

VOICE demands school system provide more support for immigrant students

Seventy VOICE Arlington leaders turned out with allies on a night with torrential rain in late May to demand the Arlington school system provide greater support for immigrant and refugee students.

The size of the turnout made an impression. Reid Goldstein, now the School Board Chair, twice noted the number in his comments.

Several School Board members underscored the need to act now. School Board member Nancy Van Doren told the Superintendent she would look for changes to volunteer forms sooner rather than later to ensure APS is not discouraging parent participation by asking for unnecessary personally identifying information.

At the instigation of VOICE and its ally, The Dream Project, the Superintendent last year appointed a working group to study how well the school system has been meeting the needs of immigrant and refugee students.

The recommendations presented by the working group at the School Board meeting ranged from clarifying what documents the school system will need students' caretakers to present if their parents are detained to providing greater mental health support and  adapting the curriculum to better reflect the contributions of immigrants and refugees.

Next Steps: We will continue to organize to hold APS accountable for making key changes early in the school year.

 

VOICE gets attention with mayoral candidate forum, get-out-the-vote campaign

At the candidate evening in May, mayoral candidates committed to work with VOICE Alexandria on

  •     Working to enforce the affordable housing parameters set in the Housing Master Plan;
  •     Strengthening Resolution 830 to ensure preservation of public housing in the city;
  •     Ensuring a culture in public housing that encourages resident participation in the decision making of public housing;
  •     Increasing equity in public schools around suspension rates;
  •     Researching city contractors and sub-contractors to ensure that all people who work in the city can live in the city.

VOICE and the Resident Association of ARHA also conducted a non-partisan campaign to get out the vote in public housing during the primary election.  
 
This was part of a larger campaign in which VOICE and the ARHA Resident Association are organizing in solidarity to demand respect for public housing residents in Alexandria. With the constant threat of redevelopment taking place at the ARHA properties in Old Town (such as Samuel Madden and Andrew Adkins) many families do not know if/when they will be forced out of the city. Additionally, residents also endure nagging maintenance problems such as gas and water leaks, chronic plumbing issues, and infestations of rodents.   

On one weekend alone, GOTV teams knocked on 1,062 doors in an ARHA-wide Get Out the Vote effort to increase voter turnout of ARHA residents, primarily in the Charles Houston, LaDrey and City Hall Precincts.

Among their other accomplishments:

--  Collected over 1,437 voter pledge cards from ARHA residents and community members who committed to vote on issues that impact public and affordable housing –  more than 400% of the difference determining the 2015 mayoral primary and larger than 10% of the entire 2015 mayoral primary electorate;

--  Completed a voter registration drive of ARHA resident;

--  Mobilized for Election Day to knock on hundreds of ARHA doors, offer rides to the polls for ARHA residents, and make hundreds of phone calls to residents of public housing who  committed to vote.

 

 

Honoring Muslim and Jewish Holidays:  Confirming last year’s victory with the Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) in obtaining a commitment to protect Muslim and Jewish students from being academically penalized when they miss school due to religious obligations, Muslim parents in Fairfax just received emails from FCPS, written in Arabic as well as English, explaining that if their kids need to fast during Ramadan (May 15 - June 14) they now have a choice: They can either have their SOL tests rescheduled or ask for an early-morning exam time so kids can take the test while their energy level is still high. Our Muslim VOICE parents see this as a sign the school system has gained a new level of awareness.

Organizing with Latino Herndon parents to make sure kids can safely get to school: An action team meeting was held in Herndon with over 40 parents from Hutchison Elementary and VOICE leaders from Floris UMC, Northern VA Hebrew Congregation, Trinity Presbyterian & St. Mary's Episcopal. Many spoke up about safety issues near the school, particularly a dangerous traffic intersection where two parents have already been hit by a car.

Listening to students: VOICE’s Schools Team conducted listening sessions with Fairfax high school students. A listening session focused on youth was held at the Reston Regional Library, led by VOICE leaders from Northern Virginia Hebrew Congregation (NVHC). The nine youths from grades 8 through 11 who participated were all members of the library’s Teen Advisory Board. The issue they raised was concern over safety in the wake of the Parkland school shooting and what appears to them to be inadequate safeguards, especially at the elementary schools, and insufficient training for teachers and counselors on this.

Listening to principals: VOICE’s Schools Team conducted a listening session with 70+ Fairfax County principals on April 19. A team of VOICE Muslim and Jewish leaders worked with the principals in two different breakout sessions at an FCPS Principals’ Event. The purpose was twofold: to continue ensuring that Muslim and Jewish holidays are honored in FCPS, and to identify talented principals and build relationships with them to find allies in our larger schools-organizing effort. 

Research action on public transit loss: VOICE leaders from Vienna Baptist Church and Emmaus United Church of Christ partnered with parents and the PTA of Cunningham Park Elementary School to assess public transportation needs after the loss of the 2T Metrobus route last June. The face-to-face surveys and conversations conducted with 41 parents indicate that the loss of the 2T bus has seriously disrupted the lives of residents and families. More than 30 of the parents expressed interest in helping to organize an effort to restore bus service.