On March 6, during a mayoral forum held at Trinity University, Mayor Ivy Taylor, Councilman Ron Nirenberg and Manuel Medina fought each other on the Laurie Auditorium stage over the 2017-2022 bond program, public safety and the city’s growth strategy. But it was the issue of economic segregation that seemed to be the elephant in the room.
It’s not like the candidates avoided the issue, or recoiled when it was raised. But it’s a topic each candidate acknowledged as being unavoidable and paramount as their campaigns march toward the May 6 election, even if not a lot of people are talking about it.
Below are excerpts of what they had to say on gentrification and food desserts. You can listen to the whole debate here:
One of the first questions asked by moderator and longtime local journalist Rick Casey was about gentrification.
What do you propose specifically to help ensure that longterm elderly and other residents vulnerable to gentrification, rising taxes — that they can get the good things that come from the community improvements but have managed to stay in their houses.
• NIRENBERG made the distinction between how homeowners and renters were being differently. Renters, he said, have no protection when they’re shoved from a neighborhood that’s being improved by residential or commercial development.
What we’re seeing though in San Antonio is that we do not have a policy that protects people from being displaced by the economic growth. And that’s what we need to focus on.
I propose putting together a task force of experts to make sure we’re addressing policies … to ensure that residents, especially those who don’t have owned equity in their communities, are able to be protected and (that) there’s a set of policies in place, a set of criteria in place, for whenever there’s an economic development.
• TAYLOR cited her background in this very arena as a former employee of the city and of Merced Housing Texas. As mayor, she reminded the room, she created the Housing Commission to Protect and Preserve Dynamic and Diverse Neighborhoods, which has lead to $20 million from the 2017 bond to help address the issue.
There’s not going to be just one thing. There are many things we need to do. From a city perspective, yes, we need to take a closer look at how we allocate our resources on CDBG (HUD’s Community Development Block Grant dollars). We need to work with the folks at the state level on how they allocate the low income housing tax credits, which has really been the main vehicle for providing affordable rental housing.
• MEDINA called Mayor Julian Castro’s Decade of Downtown a success, but said the area has been experiencing gentrification as a result.
People should not be taxed out of their homes. And with the rise of the appraisal district, there comes a need for the mayor to take leadership to rein in the Bexar County Appraisal District (BCAD). … It makes no sense. … When your appraisals rise your tax rate should fall. That is something that we will implement immediately so people are not taxed out of their homes.
They also fielded a question from an audience member about food desserts, which the U.S. Department of Agriculture defines as communities “vapid of fresh fruit, vegetables, and other healthful whole foods, usually found in impoverished areas.”
• AUDIENCE MEMBER
My concern is about things more basic. About about survival. About food desserts in our city — on the South Side, on the East Side, on the inner West Side. There are people, especially seniors, and single mothers with many small children who cannot get to the super H-E-Bs. H-E-B and Walmart have a monopoly. They promised neighborhoods small groceries when they first rolled out the super centers. This has never came to pass. There are people who have diabetes because they cannot get good food.
• MEDINA rattled off a bunch of stats about poverty in San Antonio, including one that said that 19.8 percent of people here are living in poverty.
These are real people, y’all. These are kids, these are families, these are seniors. And that 19.8 number is important because people that do this for a living say that when you get to 20 percent you’re going to see the effects of poverty, skyrocketing crime. As the council member (Nirenberg) said we have skyrocketing crime here in San Antonio. Soon you will see companies not wanting to come to San Antonio because of poverty and crime. The first thing we need to do is work with our community partners. There’s people out there who are doing good work.
• NIRENBERG referenced two plans already in place that address food desserts.
SA2020 and SA Tomorrow have both IDed … food desserts and access to healthy food to be extremely important priorities for community health. In terms of policy, how we’re dealing with that through SA Tomorrow is that we are working on improving development policy and code so that we can encourage things like urban farms to be operational within buildings in the urban core. We need to also make sure we carry out the objectives of the healthy corner store initiative to make sure we have cooling space and we (incentivize) cooling space and food space for corner stores.
• TAYLOR also referred to the SA Tomorrow plan.
I certainly encourage you to go to SA Tomorrow website and to look up the sustainability plan because it outlines specifically our food policy goals. And those are things that we need to be able to work in collaboration with people like you in order to bring them to reality. … I think bringing more gardens and farmers markets into those neighborhoods that are disconnected is going to be very important, as well as working with our schools. Because for many of our kids that’s their main source of nutrition. And so I’m very interested in working with the Food Policy Council, they have some very aggressive goals on farm-to-market within the public schools.”
This article was originally published by the H.E. Butt Foundation’s Folo Media initiative in 2017.