Dignowity Hill residents and reps from some of the homeless ministries in the area met Thursday night to discuss vagrancy issues. Some residents have complained about some homeless relieving themselves in public, fighting and trespassing.
However, a majority of residents who attended the discussion at the Ella Austin Community Center said they should take on a larger responsibility in helping the homeless.
A discussion titled “Dignowity Dialogue — Homelessness” will be held 6 p.m. tonight (July 20) at Ella Austin Community Center, 1023 N. Pine St. This is not an official meeting of the Dignowity Hill Neighborhood Association.
An influx of gentrifiers into the near-East Side neighborhood of Dignowity Hill in recent years means not only new faces, but new voices and concerns in an urban area known partly for its homeless population and the organizations that assist them.
The residents complain that some of the homeless who frequent the neighborhood’s five social services centers — located closer to downtown’s edge — relieve themselves in public, trespass and engage in noisy arguments and fist fights.
Some of the residents are calling for the relocation of the services out of the neighborhood. Others want to open a line of communication with the centers and the population they serve.
Brian Dillard, president of the Dignowity Hill Neighborhood Association, has scheduled a roundtable discussion with the five area homeless ministries and nonprofits for tonight. The roundtable is not an official event of the association.
In my past journalistic life as a blogger and columnist at the San Antonio Express-News, I wrote quite a bit about downtown and its abutting neighborhoods. Living downtown, working downtown, writing about downtown, I became obsessed with downtown.
Far from my mind in my downtown writing days was the rest of the city.
For eight years, Johnny Williams has worked as a janitor at the AT&T Center, near his East Side home. Folo Media Editor in Chief Patton Dodd talked with Williams recently about the series of “checkpoints” in his life — little encounters he says that are signs from God that tell him he’s on the right path. With the help of a ministry that helped repair his home, he’s found stability.
A 3-year-old girl carries a Peppa Pig backpack around the Williams house everywhere she goes — she even sleeps with it at night, Celine Williams says. She puts as many of her things as possible in it so she can keep them close.
When you enter SAY Sí’s exhibit “Stories Seldom Told: Less Than Equal,” you’re handed a piece of paper with a ZIP code on it. On Friday night, I was randomly assigned 78263, which put me in the East Central Independent School District.
Everything I experienced in the exhibit was determined by the ZIP code I was given.
In SAY Sí’s black box theater, guests with ZIP codes from upscale areas were granted up-front and spacious seating. Those with ZIP codes from low-income areas were directed to enter through the back entrance; they walked through a metal detector and were wanded by a police officer played by Ren Alvarez, 15, a sophomore at Stevens High School.
Editor’s Note: The description of how the SAWS fee waivers for the ICRIP program is allocated was incorrect in the original version of this story. Also, this story has been updated to reflect that an across-the-board waiver of SAWS fees for affordable housing could be considered by City Council as early as this fall.
The housing commission requested that $1.2 million be set aside for affordable housing developments, but the request never made the city’s budgeting process. Instead, CCDO created a new rule that allowed for half of the ICRIP waivers to be set aside for affordable housing and nonprofit projects such as charter schools or if Goodwill wanted to build a facility; the other half would be reserved for other types of projects such as commercial.
If you’re trying to build affordable housing beyond the downtown area, obtaining incentives from the city of San Antonio may prove difficult.
That’s because San Antonio lacks an incentives policy for affordable housing, and the city’s housing commission is trying to fix that.
The 15-member commission argues that affordable housing projects outside the center city aren’t getting their fair share of $3 million in “impact fee waivers” set aside by the San Antonio Water System (SAWS) every year. These funds cover the cost of infrastructure upgrades necessary to provide service to a new development.
For a developer, receiving such waivers can mean a savings of hundreds of thousands of dollars.
The problem for affordable housing developers is that a sizable chunk of the $3 million has already been carved out for other projects (mainly downtown housing) before they’re able to apply for the waivers. Or, as one of the housing commissioners puts it: “affordable housing gets the scraps.”
“Stories Seldom Told: Less than Equal” opens 6-10 p.m. Friday at SAY Sí, 1518 S. Alamo St. Free.
Visitors at an upcoming art exhibit may discover what many San Antonio youth say they already know: inequality makes life feel like a maze.
The largest installation at the exhibit, which is hosted by the educational arts program SAY Sí, is a paper mache maze completely covered with copies of standardized tests.
According to Rick Stemm, SAY Sí’s new media instructor, the maze, titled “Scientia Potentia Est,” represents the gauntlet of tests students are forced through—tests which he says have no proven effectiveness.
People who enter the maze will be given navigation tools based on an assigned ZIP code. Some zip codes are given help and proper instruction on how to get through the maze; some are given incorrect instructions and are pushed out.
On a recent Monday afternoon, four young children sit in the front a West Side church sanctuary and tie black pieces of cloth over their eyes. Four other children help them to their feet and guide their partners through the rows of pews, laughing, as they compete to reach a predetermined spot.
“What is the hardest part of helping your friends?” he asks after the children have taken their spots on the floor around him.
Mueller spends most of his summer in the church sanctuary with children from the neighborhood—many of whom are not church families—as part of its program Multi-level Education Outreach (MEYO).
The program is designed to improve the West Side by educating its children—a mission the church has been doing in one way or another since it was formed 101 years ago by a Mexican pastor who fled a violent civil war.
The City of San Antonio recently formed a department that will manage the $20 million, bond-funded Urban Renewal Plan and the city’s housing programs — including Community Development Block Grant and HOME Investment Partnerships Program — and that will also focus on neighborhood engagement.
Heading the Neighborhood and Housing Services Department will be Veronica R. Soto, who previously served as director for the City of El Paso’s Community and Human Development Department. She begins July 10.
The Urban Renewal Plan is designed to remove blight and add affordable housing units to some of the more distressed parts of town. The city will use the $20 million — bond dollars approved by voters in May — to purchase properties, prepare the sites for development and then sell the land to a developer for affordable housing.
The new department will also engage communities when changes are proposed to their environments. Often, neighbors worry about character of their communities and have complained about not having enough input from the city, or a strong dialogue with the city.
Faces of San Antonio is an occasional series at Folo Media. Write to email@example.com with ideas and suggestions.
The statue of a gory, bloodied and crucified Jesus Christ, surrounded by more than 30 prayer candles and a Holy Water dispenser, is a popular place for residents of this West Side neighborhood day and night.
Every Sunday at the 11 a.m. service of West End Church of God in Christ (WEC), the women of the church wear white gloves and hats, which complement their all-white, head-to-toe habits. The men dress in scrupulous suits.
WEC Pastor Jesse Denny Jr. stands shrouded in a black pulpit robe. He grips the Bible in his left hand and a microphone in his right as the church’s 15 congregants rise from the first two rows of aged wooden pews.
Love breeds fertility and growth in God, he tells them.
“Yes! That’s right! Come on pastor,” several sisters holler, clapping. “Amen! Amen!”
Short-term rentals like Airbnb are more popular than ever with tourists and property owners alike. But observers of this trend say short-term rentals (STRs) could be taking affordable housing units off the market when they are converted into Airbnbs—especially in gentrifying neighborhoods.
Now, San Antonio’s housing commission is looking at ways short-term rentals can fund affordable housing efforts.
The plan, tossed around by a subcommittee of the Housing Commission to Protect and Preserve Dynamic and Diverse Neighborhoods, proposes a $2 fee for nightly Airbnb rentals that would generate about $400,000 in revenue a year for San Antonio, based on Airbnb’s rate of rentals in the city.
A new study finds that Texas is among the national leaders in “economic dynamism.” That’s a technical term: it means businesses starting and closing, workers changing firms or moving to new opportunities. According to the Economic Innovation Group, a think tank and advocacy group in Washington, D.C., dynamism is a more illuminating measure of economic health than typical metrics like the unemployment rate.
In EIG’s new study, the Index of State Dynamism, Texas boasts the sixth most dynamic economy in the country. Most of the nation remains stagnant. The Great Recession may have ended in 2009, but the recovery has been snail-like, and the nation has never returned to pre-recession levels of economic activity. Only a few states—including Nevada, Utah, Florida, Colorado, North Dakota, and our Texas—show some bright spots.
As a research and policy shop, EIG’s focus is not just the business economy in general, but also inequality. (They also authored the Distressed Communities Index.) True to form, their new study contains insights for addressing poverty and inequality, namely that a big part of the answer to those challenges is an economy with more dynamism.
Earlier today, Folo Media was privileged to be part of a broad conversation about San Antonio’s economic inequality on “The Source,” Texas Public Radio’s noontime program hosted by David Martin Davies.
San Antonio doesn’t have an unemployment problem — people are working.
But many of its jobs don’t pay enough to lift low-income families out of poverty.
This is the opinion of the outgoing director of Project QUEST, San Antonio’s top workforce development nonprofit.
Project QUEST “does not believe that low-paying jobs are good jobs,” said Sister Pearl Ceasar, who leaves her post in the program on June 26 to become the Superior General of the Congregation of Divine Providence on the West Side.
Public meetings regarding $19 million in federal housing dollars will be held at 6 p.m. Wednesday, June 14, and Aug. 2 at City Hall Complex, 105 Main Plaza.
On Wednesday, and again on Aug. 2, taxpayers can weigh in on how the City of San Antonio will spend an anticipated $19 million in upcoming federal dollars from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) earmarked for housing and neighborhood upgrades.
Should the appropriations process in Congress yield less than $19 million in entitlement funds for San Antonio, the city is prepared to cut back certain programs.
Here’s a sentence that’s been stuck in my head like a pop song hook: “The opposite of poverty is justice.” That comes from Bryan Stevenson, the death row lawyer and advocate for criminal justice reform. You may already be familiar with Stevenson, but if not you should give him your attention. His best-selling book, most-viewed Ted Talk and several engrossing interviews (like this one) reveal him to be a vital moral authority. Not just an advocate or public intellectual, but someone who can proclaim sharp moral truths and actually get a hearing.
I’ve pointed conservative and liberal friends alike to Stevenson, and both stand convicted by his incisive critique of American injustice. That’s moral authority—the ability to make us grapple with difficult ethical questions and consider how our lives might need to change in response.
Last month, before Election Day, we sat down with District 8 Councilman Ron Nirenberg at his campaign headquarters on Broadway to get his views on issues of generational poverty and inequality in San Antonio.
The runoff election between Nirenberg and Mayor Ivy Taylor is June 10. Early voting begins May 30.
It was only four years ago that Ron Nirenberg, then general manager of Trinity University’s KRTU radio station, thought he might enter politics. He was eyeing the District 8 City Council seat at the time, not mayor of the seventh largest city in the United States.
“Working in nonprofit radio, being involved in different community efforts, I realized what was driving me and getting me up every day was actually working on the community,” Nirenberg said.
On April 4, Folo Media sat down with Mayor Ivy Taylor to get her views on generational poverty in San Antonio. The day before, at a mayoral forum, Taylor gave her “broken people” comment, which had been reported by Express-News columnist Gilbert Garcia (who moderated the forum) but had not yet become controversial.
Before she entered politics, Mayor Ivy Taylor spent five years at the City of San Antonio’s housing and community development department and six years working at Merced Housing Texas, a statewide nonprofit based in San Antonio that builds affordable housing and offers home repair assistance.
“I’m a community development planner at heart, not really a politician per se — so I started my work and career here in San Antonio focused on affordable housing,” Taylor said.
Taylor says this is one of the reasons she ran for the District 2 City Council seat in 2009. She found her impact at the city and Merced was only going so far.
This story is a 500-Word Profile, an occasional series at Folo Media. Know someone we should profile? Write to firstname.lastname@example.org.
When Betty and Floyd Tarver moved into the Harvard Place-Eastlawn neighborhood on San Antonio’s East Side in 1962, Betty was the only white person on their block. Germans built most of the homes on her street, says Betty, but by the time she and Floyd arrived, the area was predominantly African American. “Imagine that, at that time,” she says—an interracial couple purchasing a home on the East Side six years before President Lyndon Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act.
That act prevented housing discrimination based on race. It repaired the law, but not the land—San Antonio remained strongly segregated along racial and economic lines, as much of it continues to be today.
Betty and Floyd first met at San Antonio’s Navy Club downtown. He was a bartender, and Betty and a girlfriend would visit late at night to drink and flirt. “When he was young, honey, he was pretty,” she says.
“And you couldn’t tell what he was—if he was Hispanic or black. I remember asking somebody, ‘What nationality is he?’ She said, ‘He said he’ll be whatever you want him to be.’”
Folo Media is a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization reporting on one topic: the challenges and opportunities for vulnerable communities in San Antonio, Texas. We produce a variety of media on this growing city's status as a national leader in inequality, focusing on longstanding problems and emergent solutions.