DreamWeek Event Sparks Discussion on Segregation and Poverty in San Antonio

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Lockwood Park in the Dignowity Hill neighborhood was among the historical neighborhoods that would not provide property deeds to minorities.

Scott Ball / Rivard Report

The Dignowity Hill neighborhood was among early neighborhoods in which minorities were not allowed to lease or own property within its boundaries.

Housing directly impacts all other opportunities within a person's life – that is the premise behind Martin Luther King Jr.'s Poor People's Campaign of 1968 and Sunday's DreamWeek event, Redeeming the American Dream.

City, school district and state officials, and business and neighborhood leaders joined Trinity University urban studies professor Christine Drennon Sunday afternoon at the Healy Murphy Center on the near-Eastside to examine how housing development in San Antonio and federal lending practices started in the 1930s contributed to present-day inequities.

"For most of us in the middle and working classes, [income] very much depends on where we live," Drennon said during her opening presentation, noting San Antonio's ranking as the most segregated city in the United States. The designation, which reflects San Antonio's immense disparity between impoverished and wealthy areas, didn't come by coincidence, Drennon said.

Original deed documents show that certain neighborhoods were designed with segregation in mind. Neighborhoods like Olmos Park, Beacon Hill, and Dignowity Hill were all developed with restrictions that prohibited leasing or sale of property to minorities, Drennon said.

Neighboring areas, many of which lie in San Antonio's urban core, including Gardendale and Colonia San Ignacio, did not have these deed restrictions. These neighborhoods developed with small lots and infrastructure that lagged behind the rest of the city's development. Both of these issues remain today, Drennon said.

Drennon showed photos of housing stock from these same areas in recent years to illustrate how they have fared over time. Neighborhoods with deed restrictions that prevented sale to minorities have high home values, whereas the other neighborhoods have more humble homes, Drennon said.

"That's not an alley, that is a Westside street," Drennon said, illustrating through the photos the differences in development between the two neighborhood types over time.

Drennon said the federal government only exacerbated the issue in the 1930s when it began identifying neighborhoods as most promising for investment. The government hoped this system would encourage banks to lend money in tough financial times. Some neighborhoods were given the green light because of the positive qualities of the existing property and its residents, while others were "redlined" because of depreciating property value and a majority non-white population.

"The United States government told the banks, 'That's a risk and you may want to think about it," she said.

Drennon said this created a society where residents living in redlined neighborhoods couldn't invest in their homes and couldn't emerge from a cycle of poverty.

School districts came to play a role in this process too, when the 68 original common school districts of San Antonio began to consolidate into groupings based on property value. Districts formed partnerships with others because of a balance sheet – If a district had high property value, it was considered more attractive as a partner.

This left some districts – Edgewood and San Antonio ISDs, for example – with high concentrations of minority students and low property values, Drennon said.

San Antonio ISD Superintendent Pedro Martinez said his district has two-thirds of the highest poverty families in the county. That number jumps to 82 percent when combining students from Harlandale, Edgewood, and South San Antonio ISDs.

Joining Martinez on the panel were State Rep. Diego Bernal (D-San Antonio); Victoria Gonzalez, senior policy advisor to Mayor Ron Nirenberg; Lourdes Castro Ramirez, chair of the Mayor's Housing Task Force; and Stephen Yndo, chairman of the Urban Land Institute San Antonio. All discussed solutions to the inequities following Drennon's presentation.

Panel moderator and Dignowity Hill Neighborhood Association President Brian Dillard described the need for an "ecosystem" of collaboration across sectors in San Antonio to achieve tangible progress.

Several panelists cited strong education as paramount to changing the cycle of poverty.

Bernal, who serves as vice chair of the House Public Education Committee, said that solving school finance remains a crucial step in addressing property taxes that displace families from their homes.

Rep. Diego Bernal (D-San Antonio) spoke at the Dreamweek event about solutions to San Antonio's problems with inequity and poverty.

Emily Donaldson / Rivard Report

State Rep. Diego Bernal (D-San Antonio) speaks at the Dreamweek event about solutions to San Antonio's problems with inequity and poverty.

Martinez agreed, saying that money coming out of district homeowners' pockets should stay within a district.

The superintendent also emphasized the need to raise expectations for students within SAISD.

In the past two years, SAISD has increased its graduation rate to 85 percent, as well as the number of students who attend "top Tier One" universities, Martinez said. However, he wants to continue pushing his students to consider college as an option post-graduation.

"We are making it very clear that not only are children going to graduate from our high schools, but they are going to be going to college," Martinez said. "If you are coming from a high-poverty family, especially the families I serve...I don't think our families are going to be okay if they don't attain a higher education."

Fifty-four percent of students graduating from SAISD go on to attend college, Martinez said.

SAISD Superintendent Pedro Martinez speaks during a board meeting. Photo by Scott Ball.

Scott Ball / Rivard Report

SAISD Superintendent Pedro Martinez.

In his two-and-a-half years with SAISD, Martinez believes a transformation has been underway. He said the district is on the right pathway forward, but has to cope with external factors – such as housing – that he can't control.

He cited students who have learning disabilities because their housing exposes them to lead as one example of the district coping with outside factors.

"We will own education," he said. "But I can't own lead in the houses."

3 thoughts on “DreamWeek Event Sparks Discussion on Segregation and Poverty in San Antonio

  1. As the discussion on housing, poverty, and educational acjievement continues I am concerned that Superintendant Martinez is frankly enphasizing the the wrong goals. He needs to enphasize the college readiness percentage AND the college graduation rate of our students of color. He also needs to also emphasize the academic pipeline that actually starts at birth ( and some will say at conception ) to help increase the college readiness rate of the high school graduates. Let us face reality— the college readiness rate of the high school graduates from districts serving our poor children as well as their college achievement rates . We have a very difficult task ahead of us.

    • I agree that college readiness/retention/success should be a major success indicator for us, and I believe Superintendent Martinez stated that is definitely a major goal for SAISD now. I agree that in the past SAISD simply wanted to get kids across the stage and out the door, but Pedro has stated several times in different conversations (including this one) that college SUCCESS, not just college acceptance is key. Agreed that the task is not an easy one, but I believe we’re on the right path…especially if we can all work together and get our egos out of the way. 😉 Great comment John!

  2. While Ms. Donald does an excellent job of relating the ever-more-polished thesis of Prof. Dr. Drennon, her angle on education vs. poverty, lifted from the panel dynamics of Superintendent Martinez nudging the educational impact of the intertwined issues of taxes, gentrifying development, class, and ethnicity represented in the rest of the panel, largely evaded how the Dreamweek setting implicitly urges a more “pedagogy of the oppressed” view of education and poverty spurring some counter-cultural synthesis. No doubt this was the hope President Dillard sought in planting an “ecosystem” approach, and I think the format of Rivard Report, like NPR and PBS digital supplements, could helpfully link in the problem-solving bills Rep. Bernal wanted people to rally around, or the candidate search Ms. Castro Ramirez tipped for the Task Force, or even selected maps of areas beating market appreciation from Dr. Drennon. As an alumnus interviewer for Brown University, I dream of getting the High School graduate who says, of owning education and lead in the houses, that there is an opportunity for social science and health sciences to cooperate, so why doesn’t Supt. Martinez convene those master teachers he credits with adding college acceptances and have senior seminars about both the historic politics and public health dynamics of lead and asbestos, just as life expectancy and the class geography of housing are being studied now. Getting some strategically raw information resources linked to Rivard Reports on important community discussions could elevate the deserving and perspicacious coverage of your talented education journalist.

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