How Airbnbs could hurt affordable housing—and how it could help

Homes on Pine Street in Dignowity Hill are currently being renovated. WALLY PEREZ / FOLO MEDIA

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.

Are startups the answer to inequality?

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.

Inequality is complicated. Let’s talk about it.

Chris Carrillo, who grew up on the West Side, made it out of extreme poverty. Carrillo’s story was featured on The Source on Monday. JOSE ARREDONDO / FOLO MEDIA
Folo Media editor in chief Patton Dodd (left) appears on The Source on Monday. COURTESY PHOTO

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.

Panelists included Folo’s Patton Dodd; Jackie Gorman, CEO of San Antonio for Growth on the Eastside (SAGE); Andrea Guajardo, chair of the Workforce Solutions Alamo board and regional director of community health for CHRISTUS Santa Rosa Hospital System; and Gabriel Acevedo, Ph.D., associate professor at UTSA Department of Sociology.

Dodd and his fellow panelists held a wide-ranging conversation on many aspects of inequality, including race, jobs, education, workforce training, housing, and more.

Hear the program in its entirety here.

Eleven Weeks Hungry: Coach Pop, San Antonio Food Bank Issue Call for Support

Spurs coach Gregg Popovich and San Antonio Food Bank president and CEO Eric Cooper talk about the increased need for donations this summer. DARCY SPRAGUE / FOLO MEDIA

San Antonio children whose families depend on school lunch for meals are facing a summer of hunger—even more so this summer than in years past, says the San Antonio Food Bank.

Last year in the first week of summer operation, the food bank served 15,000 meals. This year, the figure was 30,000.

Eric Cooper, president and CEO of the San Antonio Food Bank, attributes the leap to changes to summer school programs in certain parts of town and to an overall increase in demand.

Why San Antonio has both high employment and high poverty

Sister Pearl Ceasar, executive director of Project QUEST, will be leaving the program after accepting a position as Superior General of the Congregation of Divine Providence. WALLY PEREZ / FOLO MEDIA

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.

“They keep you poor,” she added.

The data available supports Ceasar’s comment.

This week, tell San Antonio how to spend neighborhood dollars

The Calcasieu Apartments, 214 Broadway, is set to receive $812,500 in CDBG funds for its rehab. BEN OLIVO / FOLO MEDIA

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.

The opposite of poverty is not wealth. It’s justice

Bryan Stevenson at TED2012: Full Spectrum, February 27 - March 2, 2012. Long Beach, CA. Photo: James Duncan Davidson

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.

Ron Nirenberg: ‘It doesn’t matter who you are or what part of town you live in … you should have a city that works for you’

District 8 Councilman Ron Nirenberg, who is running for mayor, answers questions during a mayoral forum at Highland Hills Elementary School earlier this month. WENDI POOLE / SPECIAL TO FOLO MEDIA

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.

Ivy Taylor: ‘I believe we can create safe, stable mixed-income neighborhoods throughout the city’

Mayor Ivy Taylor talks with constituents right before a mayoral forum held at Highland Hills Elementary School earlier in May. WENDI POOLE / SPECIAL TO FOLO MEDIA

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.

The runoff election between Taylor and District 8 Councilman Ron Nirenberg is June 10. Early voting begins May 30.

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.

“We need something to boost us up”

This story is a 500-Word Profile, an occasional series at Folo Media. Know someone we should profile? Write to

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.

Betty Tarver, 76, in her home near the AT&T Center on San Antonio’s East Side.

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.’”

How the North Side voted on the $20M affordable housing bond

This property on 39th Street, near Castroville Road, is a potential redevelopment site under the City of San Antonio’s Urban Renewal Plan. WENDI POOLE / SPECIAL TO FOLO MEDIA

In the wake of this past election, I analyzed the voting results to see how each district voted on the $20 million Neighborhood Improvements portion of the 2017-2022 bond program, also known as Proposition 6.

On the near West Side, 77 percent of voters supported Proposition 6, the highest rate of support of any of San Antonio’s 10 districts. Conversely, District 9, which includes Stone Oak, ranked lowest with 62 percent voter approval.

The 500-Word Profile: Rev. Michael Jolla

The 500-Word Profile is an occasional series at Folo Media. Know someone we should profile? Write to

Reverend Michael Jolla believes in saving souls, and he would sure like to be able to focus on that task. But in his neighborhood, he tells me, there are more urgent matters to attend to.

“What’s the biggest challenge your congregants face?” I ask him, and before I can finish the question, he spits out one word, underlined and in bold type: “Poverty.”

New condos and restaurants near AT&T Center?

Warehouse slated to turn into a residential area accommodated with retail shops facing the AT&T Center. VICTORIA URIBE / FOLO MEDIA

Last month, a bright red “Sold” sticker was affixed to the aging For Sale sign outside the long-dormant warehouse across the street from where the San Antonio Spurs play. A San Antonio-based husband-and-wife real estate development team look to open a live-work facility on the site complete with retail and restaurants to attract AT&T Center visitors.

Pinching pennies: barely making it in San Antonio

Of the 57 zip codes in Bexar County, the median income in 34 of them is not enough to put money in the bank at the end of the year. WENDI POOLE / SPECIAL TO FOLO MEDIA

Can you pay your bills, buy “extras” like a new shirt or a meal out and still put money in the bank every month?

Chances are your answer depends on a number of variables, but the most important variable may be where you live.

In San Antonio, the median income is about $46,000 per household. The cost of living is 93.2 percent of the cost to live in the United States—meaning it is 6.8 percent cheaper to live in San Antonio. The United States’ average income is just over $56,000. The poverty threshold for a family of four is just over $24,000.

How the smallest part of San Antonio’s bond takes on housing

A property on Castroville Road and 38th Street is a potential site for new affordable housing under the new housing portion of the bond package. Election day is Saturday, May 6. Early voting ends Tuesday. WENDI POOLE / SPECIAL TO FOLO MEDIA

The $850 million bond package on this year’s ballot is the largest ever put before citizens of San Antonio. City officials are asking voters to push it through so that capital improvements — upgrades to sidewalks and streets/drainage, parks and libraries — can occur throughout the city.

Except for $20 million. That is the amount tied to Proposition 6, the Neighborhood Improvements portion of the bond. That portion will fund what’s known as the Urban Renewal Plan.

The Inequality Parade

Fiesta royalty wave to the crowd during this year’s Battle of Flowers Parade. BENJAMIN OLIVO / FOLO MEDIA

The Fiesta Battle of the Flowers Parade is bridging one of San Antonio’s most extreme gaps.

Its two-mile parade route starts one block east of the Pearl Brewery, where renters pay the highest rates in the city at roughly $2 per square foot.

Asked and answered: The poverty question that sparked controversy in the mayor’s race

Megan Legacy, executive director of the SA Christian Hope Resource Center, discusses the root causes of generational poverty recently. BENJAMIN OLIVO / FOLO MEDIA

“What do you see as the deepest systemic causes of generational poverty in San Antonio?”

Mayor Ivy Taylor laughed when she was asked this question at a mayor’s forum three weeks ago in front of San Antonio’s nonprofit community.

“When Mayor Taylor laughed, I understood why: Because you could literally talk about it all day,” said Megan Legacy, executive director of SA Christian Hope Resource Center on the West Side. Legacy was the person who posed this question to Taylor and District 8 Councilman Ron Nirenberg, the only other candidate running for mayor to attend the April 3 forum.

It’s a question that seems equal to quicksand. The more one tries to answer it, the deeper and deeper one gets sucked into the issue.

Pastor aims to bridge community resources and needs

Jimmy Robles (left), pastor of Last Chance Ministries and founder of Bridging the Gap, and John David, who runs the BTG program on the Eastside, listen in on a discussion River of Life Church on Tuesday, April 4, 2017. VICTORIA URIBE / FOLO MEDIA

Here in San Antonio, we hear a lot about the work being done through federal and state grants to address inequality. Much of that work is performed by large nonprofits or government agencies.

But as people like Pastor Jimmy Robles know, many smaller groups also strive to create a big impact on their communities, attending to both ongoing needs and systemic issues.


Hello. We are Folo Media.

Welcome to our soft launch. We’re just getting started here at Folo Media, and still building our team and breaking ground on key initiatives. But we’ve decided to start sharing some our early work on this blog.

A few words are in order as we begin.

When I tell people that San Antonio leads the United States in inequality, I tend to get one of two initial responses. One: “Yes, I know. I hear that all the time.” Two: “No way. I have never heard that before.”

The poverty film that put San Antonio on the map

“Hunger is easy to recognize when it looks like this.”

That line, about 50 seconds into the video below, lands like a jab to the jaw—just as intended. The baby you see there was born in San Antonio. As the narrator drops that line, the baby is barely breathing, and only with the help of a doctor who is carefully performing CPR. “This baby is dying of starvation,” the narrator continues. “He was an American. Now he is dead.”

What are San Antonio’s vulnerable communities? City aims to find out

This photo shows the old Mission Trails mobile home property across the river. BENJAMIN OLIVO / FOLO MEDIA

How do you define “vulnerable community”?

As a lifelong resident of San Antonio, I immediately think of the West Side. While there have been flashes of prosperity and success, the West Side has remained largely stagnant for decades. Mostly all of the West Side — from Frio Street west to Callaghan Road; from Culebra Road down to U.S. 90 — hasn’t changed since I was a kid in the early 1980s.

Updated: Promise Zone officials await word from HUD

Daniel Williams of EDC Moving Systems wheels in a kitchen range into one of the units at East Meadows on Lamar Street. BENJAMIN OLIVO / FOLO MEDIA

It’s not just that President Donald Trump has proposed cutting billions of dollars in anti-poverty programs from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) upcoming budget. The future of the Promise Zone—the swath of Eastside neighborhoods that received millions of dollars in federal grants, mostly for housing and education programs, under President Barack Obama—hangs in the balance because there’s a new administration in the White House period, says Mike Etienne, the city official who monitors the area.


folo \ˈfä-(ˌ)lō\ noun. A story that follows up on an earlier report.

Folo Media reports on the challenges and opportunities for vulnerable communities in San Antonio, Texas, one of the most inequitable cities in the United States.