SAN ANTONIO – Despite being one of the fastest-growing metro areas in the country, San Antonio also has a reputation for being one of the most impoverished and economically segregated cities in the United States.
“We have had to take a systematic and comprehensive look at the way we build our communities in order to overcome some of these systematic inequities and deficiencies that we’ve had for generations,” said Mayor Ron Nirenberg.
A 2018 American Community survey found that San Antonio has the highest poverty rate of the 25 largest metro areas in the U.S.
The mayor has joined a chorus of other city leaders who say that the coronavirus pandemic highlighted and exacerbated longstanding inequities for poor people and people of color in San Antonio.
That economic segregation was highlighted in a two-year study released in 2019 that revealed that four ZIP codes — 78202 and 78208 on the East Side, 78207 on the West Side and 78211 on the Southwest Side — are where San Antonio’s worst poverty, unemployment and education outcomes are most concentrated.
The study also showed the disparity in median income by race for San Antonio households For example, the median income for Black households was about $35,700. For Hispanic households, the median income was about $42,500. By comparison, the median income for white households was about $64,400, nearly twice that of Black San Antonians.
Hispanics make up for nearly 61 percent of the population in Bexar County while Black people make up for about nine percent. The white population in Bexar County is 27 percent.
When it comes to education, 82 percent of San Antonians have at least a high school diploma, but only 26 percent have a bachelor’s degree or higher, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. The statewide average is at just over 29 percent.
Access to health care has been another issue, especially with a virus that preys on vulnerable populations. In 2018, the San Antonio Chamber of Commerce reported that an estimated 17 percent of people below 65 living in San Antonio were uninsured, compared to 11 percent of the U.S. population.
In the previous two episodes of KSAT Explains, we spoke with demographers and scholars about the uneven impact the COVID-19 pandemic has had in the Alamo City.
But what do our elected leaders have to say about how these issues should be addressed moving forward?
KSAT asked Nirenberg and all 10 city council members the following question.
Which specific policies (to include the budget) do you support passing or potentially changing as it relates to inequality in San Antonio?
Affordable housing and infrastructure improvements were common answers.
Other council members said there is a need to fund social services and work on core services such as fixing streets and sidewalks.
The digital divide, police reform and helping small businesses were responses we received.
Below are the full unedited responses from Mayor Nirenberg and city council.
Mayor Ron Nirenberg
“In 2017, we introduced the first equity budget in the history of San Antonio, and each budget since that time has approached spending with equity in mind. That means we allocate funds based on what is needed to provide equal services and infrastructure, not dividing the pie by ten. I support continuing that approach.”
The coronavirus pandemic has highlighted cracks in our foundation locally, and we can’t move forward without addressing issues such as the digital divide and workforce development. We began to address these issues when we set priorities for using CARES Act funds, and I believe we must find ways to continue addressing these pivotal issues to create a city where your ZIP code doesn’t determine your educational and economic opportunity.”
I also support measures, many of which can be enacted at the administrative level, to end systemic racism in our criminal justice system.”
District 1 Councilman Roberto C. Treviño
“The creation of a meaningful social safety net that includes housing—such as the finalization of a Renter’s Commission, transportation, equitable infrastructure improvement and robust social services.”
District 2 Councilwoman Jada Andrews-Sullivan
“Working on the CCR To completely ban chokeholds without any exceptions or loopholes. Resolution declaring racism a public health issue. The use of Tax Increment Reinvestment zone funds for true community investing.”
District 3 Councilwoman Rebecca J. Viagran
“I have, in the past and now, have worked toward and will continue to work towards dismantling systemic and institutional racism and sexism in San Antonio, State, Nation and wherever I can.
I believe we need to have an external third party independent reviewer of all officer-involved shootings.”
We have to look at contracting practices, promotion practices, and implicit and explicit racism and sexism whether in the police department or any City department or Boards and Commissions.”
For the past three years, my residents have asked for a police substation. I think we still need to stay true to that commitment, but reinvent the way we look at it. See it in a way that’s more helpful for all of our communities to develop it as a PUBLIC SAFETY substation, not just Police substation.”
Yes, we will have some law enforcement officers but, I hope we can have conversations about having a dispute resolution center, an area for fair housing, area for domestic violence. A substation that will be more than just law enforcement.”
I do believe we can think more creatively and be better with the budgeting of the police department we have a very significant and incredible opportunity for realignment of budget dollars to areas that can help address issues upstream and move those dollars from Police to Domestic violence prevention, fair housing, mental health, small business support.”
District 4 Councilwoman Dr. Adriana Rocha Garcia
“As we begin outlining some of our budget priorities for FY2021, I hope we emphasize the need to fund critical services especially public infrastructure needs in some of our older communities where streets and sidewalks are in desperate need of reconstruction.
Inequality affects each council district differently and so for the district I represent in southwest San Antonio, my goal is to support policies and programs that address some of their immediate needs like the Risk Mitigation Fund, Minor Home Repair Program and other community-driven initiatives.
With prevalent wealth and health disparities across our city, I want to explore the possibility of allocating more funding for social services and resources targeting our vulnerable populations.
District 5 Councilwoman Shirley Gonzales
“The city budget is our primary tool to effect change. All deliberation, citizen input, studies and plans become a reality through funding. That said, our city continues to be among the most inequitable in the country.
We’ve made strides in implementing policies initiated in District 5, such as the equity lens budget, a staffed equity office, action on the issues brought to light in the poverty report and in the status of women report, pilot programs that tackle housing and intimate partner abuse, and a continued search for ways to reach out to populations who are on the lacking side of the digital divide.”
All of these are chronic issues in communities like District 5, and because of the COVID emergency, they have been uncovered and have spread to other areas of the city. The emergency has given us an opportunity to see these issues in the light of day and to double-down on the work already begun. We have been working on inequality and inequity, I think it’s time we use the tools in place to expand that work.”
One area that has gotten little attention and that I believe we should be focusing on more is the funding we set for delegate agencies. There are many nonprofit agencies and organizations in the city that are already doing the grassroots work which should be enhanced. I believe the city should support that vital work with increased funding, and that goes back to the budget.”
District 6 Councilwoman Melissa Cabello Havrda
“I believe we should tremendously improve our Public Engagement Policy. My decisions must be based on the will of the people I represent. In District 6 last year we conducted a direct mail campaign that truly engaged our residents and provided valuable feedback.”
District 7 Councilwoman Ana Sandoval
“We can address inequality by layering policies over existing programs. In short, it’s not just what we do, but HOW we do it. For instance, there is no doubt we need to continue helping residents get through the pandemic, through programs like the Emergency Assistance program that helps residents with rent, mortgage, and utility bills. However, our history of inequality tells us that underserved and marginalized populations in San Antonio do not always know about assistance programs.
Those that do know about the assistance programs don’t always know how to access them. We need to ensure the programs are promoted among those populations.”
We also must design our programs with as few barriers to access as possible. We can’t let barriers to access – be they language barriers, digital barriers, cultural or other – stop someone from getting the help they need. Yet if we do things the way we’ve always done, we are fated to repeat our past.”
District 8 Councilman Manny Pelaez
“Digital inclusion initiatives are a big priority of mine as the Chair of the Innovation and Technology Committee (ITC). We have some very exciting announcements to make in the next ITC meeting about a pilot program we plan to launch to increase accessibility to LTE internet to K-12 students in areas of our community that are most impacted by a lack of access.
Once we demonstrate the proof of concept, we plan to scale this accordingly so we that can meet the great need in our community.”
District 9 Councilman John Courage
“I believe our current city council has made great strides in developing city budgets and programs that have gone far in providing an equitable provision of funds and services to meet the needs of not just the community in general but particularly long underserved populations and neighborhoods.
While meeting the needs for streets and infrastructure improvements throughout the city, we have addressed many inequities in historically underserved parts of our community.”
We have committed to more equitable and affordable housing and partner with a large number of nonprofit organizations that strive to serve the needs of homelessness, workforce development and healthcare for underserved populations. I am committed to looking for ways we can continue to improve the lives of everyone in San Antonio particularly those with the greatest needs.”
District 10 Councilman Clayton Perry
“The City government’s main responsibilities are spelled out in the City’s Charter. We are responsible for core services, and I believe we need to focus on those in order to deliver the best return on our taxpayer’s investments.
City Council adopted an equity-based budget concept three years ago applying it to one of our core services - streets - and has continued to use that principle in all discussions regarding the annual budget.”
Many parts of our community are dealing with major road failures and drainage issues among other infrastructure challenges, we need to continue focusing our efforts on equitably funding these projects across the community.”
I also think we can do more when it comes to supporting our small businesses in San Antonio. Our small businesses are the backbone of our local economy. They employ our residents and keep our economy churning.”
COVID-19 showed us how vulnerable many of our small businesses are, and how crippling it can be when they suffer. Unemployment, housing instability, and major family stress are just the tip of the iceberg when small businesses struggle in San Antonio.”
These inequities can be seen in various ways. Despite being one of the fastest growing cities in the country, San Antonio also has the reputation for being one of the poorest and most economically segregated cities in the country.I think if the opportunity presents itself again, we need to do more to help our small and microlocal businesses here in San Antonio.”