The payday lending ordinance had been on last week’s agenda but two council members asked to postpone the vote. The ordinance would limit the amount people can borrow and restrict the number of times a consumer can renew or roll-over a loan, among other regulations.
Fourteen faith and civic groups that make up the “Houston Fair Lending Coalition” spoke on the steps of City Hall to support the ordinance — among them Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, archbishop of Galveston-Houston.
“Let’s not play games. Let’s not postpone one more day the opportunity to assist hard-working families, address their financial needs in a reasonable manner and not at the expense of a lender who traps them intro refinancing the same principal amount over and over again.”
The coalition also brought out a woman who says she’s the victim of an unscrupulous payday lender. Gail Rowland says she had to take out a payday loan due to an emergency but wasn’t prepared for the high fees that came with the loan.
“They debited my bank account every payday. I overdrew my bank account, could not pay my regular monthly expenses — my car payment, rent, utilities, groceries. After months of paying on the loan, I have defaulted and this cloud hangs over me now.”
Mustafa Tameez is a political consultant and part of the coalition. He has lobbied City Council to pass the ordinance for some time.
“We’ve pretty much have talked to all the council members, as you can imagine. We’ve knocked on every door and we’ve made our position clear. But really it’s up to them now to step up and vote for this, and the community has spoken with one united voice: Pass this ordinance and pass it now.”
After a press conference outside, members of the coalition went inside to make their voices heard before City Council. More than 20 of them signed up to speak during the public session.
Council Member James Rodriguez
After the Rev. Steve Wells of South Main Baptist Church urged council members to resist lobbyists of the payday lending industry, Council Member James Rodriguez responded.
Rodriguez has reservations about the ordinance and wants to negotiate more. He says the other side has lobbyists too, specifically Mustafa Tameez, who he says has disseminated false accusations about him to the media.
“He’s challenged my integrity and my character and I don’t appreciate it quite frankly. You know, everybody has to lobby everybody. There’s a process here. People have an opportunity to articulate their vision for this city, their positions on issues, and that’s fine. I try to listen to everybody.”
Rodriguez could also “tag” the item in Wednesday’s council meeting because he was absent last week. That would mean the vote wouldn’t come up until the next meeting in January when a set of new council members will be sworn in.