On a recent Monday evening at Tequila’s Restaurant community organizers and business leaders gathered to talk about economic prosperity, community bridging and responsible development in the South Side of San Antonio.
They came to address a problem, long acknowledged but until recently, never fully addressed at the city level: San Antonio continues to be the most economically segregated city in the US.
It was just days before City Council would vote to approve the Fiscal Year 2018 budget aimed at tackling economic segregation.
In her statement, District 3 Councilwoman Rebecca Viagran admitted: “I don’t have all the answers, but I will work with anyone who wants to contribute to making day-to-day life better for all San Antonio residents.”
While city government discussed how to divide the FY 18 budget across high need areas, the non-profit council tackled its own set of goals in the heart of the Mission San Jose neighborhood.
Seated at the table that night were Crystal Gomez and Andrew Anguiano, leaders of a recently formed nonprofit council, Southside First.
Representatives of the Mission San Jose Neighborhood Association arrived, including historian Jesse Diaz and smart growth activist Terry Ybañez, president of the association. Shortly after, representatives from two nonprofits joined the conversation, including The National Association for Latino Community Asset Builders (NALCAB) and Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC).
“You have a lot of organizations doing a lot of good things in the South Side but if everyone was working together in a way that promoted prosperity for the South Side then you wouldn’t have conditions like persistent poverty, high dropout rates, low college graduation rates, high teen pregnancy, and people who were living in extreme poverty,” Gomez said.
Recent high dollar developments have brought some prosperity to the city, but not for all.
The South Side has over 6,900 businesses yet still holds “11 percent unemployment rate right outside it’s door,” Gomez said as she pointed to her laptop in her office in a follow-up interview.
“You also have 81.3 percent Hispanics with a $36,896 median household income but only 30 percent live and work on the South Side,” Gomez said.
Southside First Economic Development Council, a startup 501(c)(3) organization, focuses to assist in facilitating programs, services or partnerships in order to accomplish investment, engagement and accountability in the South Side.
They are part of the South San Antonio Chamber of Commerce, which aims to find out what the South Side of San Antonio needs or what’s missing from businesses, churches, neighborhoods and schools and uses the information to promote economic growth.
“We’re filling a need for the community to have an entity to come to,” Gomez said. “The point of our organization is to promote investment, in people and in places like neighborhoods in commercial corridors.”
The Council relies on data to identify and solve problems in low-income areas. Trinity University is conducting a geographic information system (GIS) research for Southside First by providing “hot and cold maps,” as far as where there is an opportunity to focus and where the opportunities are the lowest.
Urban Development adjunct professor, Sarah Eaves, is in charge of the research which culminates with a student presentation in December.
“Trinity will give us data that will provide us a picture or snapshot in looking at things in a way we haven’t looked at them before,” Gomez said.
Besides partnering up with Trinity University, the council recently launched educational workshops for businesses through a campaign called “Echale Gas” (Give it a Go!).
“What we want to do is help businesses get support and access opportunities, including access to capital and business improvement grants,” Gomez said.
The workshops are held in partnership with business support agencies like S.C.O.R.E., LiftFund, and the Small Business Administration and will be hosted across the Southside, including a pilot program in along the World Heritage Corrido.
Southside First actively engages with other organizations like the Mission San Jose Neighborhood Association.
Terry Ybañez became a leading figure in the community when she protested against workforce housing development around the Mission Marquee Plaza.
“‘Workforce housing,’ I’m a little bit bothered by that phrasing; ‘affordable housing,’ I like that phrasing better,” Ybañez said.
“We were really happy when Southside First invited us in because their focus was to build relationships between the neighborhood and the needs of the neighborhood, with the needs and economic well being of small businesses,“ Ybañez said.
The objective of the Mission San Jose Neighborhood Association is to build relationships with small business. They have now teamed up with Southside First, a new organization brimming with opportunity.
“The vision that we had was pretty much synchronized with what they had,” Diaz said. “As the historian for the Mission San Jose Neighborhood Association, he believes the South Side isn’t thriving party because “lack of community pride.”
“The biggest problem is a large part of our community doesn’t feel empowered to say ‘Hey, this is what we deserve.’”
Diez wants to see the community motivated to make change happen. He wants them to be involved and attend community meetings where they can have their voice heard and get inspired to rise up and make the South of San Antonio a better place.
Seeing more people take the lead instead of having a mentality that someone else will make the right choice is Diaz’ motivation to work with Southside First.
“You have two organizations; one at the community level and one at the nonprofit and economic level that are on the same page,” Diaz said. “So what we need to do is share resources to make the community feel empowered.”
The goal is to not only bring economic development to the South of San Antonio, but to ensure these jobs trickle down to the community in order to improve high unemployment rates. “There’s so much development that’s going to happen in the next few years around Mission San Jose,” Ybañez said.
Gomez said there is no doubt that San Antonio will continue to expand.
“That’s why we have to progress as a community so people have a place to thrive.”
Southside First will hold a “Thriving Together Symposium” at Texas A&M-San Antonio Oct. 27, in hopes of motivating the community to strive for success.
For more information about Southside First, call (210) 553-1600 or reach the organization by their Facebook and Twitter.