Though there is still work to be done, and community support will be required to sustain positive initiatives once federal funding runs out, EastPoint programming could be used as a model for other communities and elected officials in San Antonio look to turn the tides in their neighborhoods.
Nearly two years have passed since President Obama named Eastside San Antonio the recipient of one of five promise zones – the Eastside had already been designated as a Choice Neighborhood. In total, there's been about $84 million of investment in Eastside San Antonio, but those designations and most of those funds overlap to form EastPoint, a four square-mile area on the Eastside. EastPoint's 18,000 residents, once predominately African-American but is now seeing an increase in hispanic and white populations, live in an area that has suffered from City disinvestment, high crime rates, low graduation rates, and poverty.
"In our collaborative vision, by 2025, EastPoint will be a vibrant, mixed-income community, rich in diversity and opportunity, catalyzing progress throughout the Eastside of San Antonio," EastPoint Director Mike Etienne told City Council on Wednesday.
"It's not about another $84 million, it's about being at the table and unpacking the problem together," said Mary Ellen Burns, senior vice president of Grant Administration for United Way of San Antonio and Bexar County. "(This gives us) an idea of what we need to address similar populations and issues."
To view the EastPoint presentation, click here.
EastPoint may become a model for other areas of San Antonio, and its success encouraged Councilwoman Shirley Gonzales (D5) to submit a Choice Neighborhood planning grant for the Alazan Apache Courts housing project on the Westside. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development will deliver their decision on the grant in July.
The Westside has similar demographics, public safety issues, and economic issues to the Eastside, she said. "At least we have an idea of how large the ask needs to be. ... It's good to get a good scope of what (this kind of change) looks like."
Burns listed the various programs that have helped build positive relationships between multiple generations, law enforcement and local leaders. Together, the community can encourage students to attend and succeed in school.
EastPoint has supported school attendance programs, anti-bullying events, dual generation programs, and college and career coach placement on campuses to keep students on the right path.
"Increased graduation rates are not an endgame, but definitely a gateway to a positive future," she said. "We are also seeing increased rates of families talking to their kids about college, and building a college-going culture. That's a big change for the neighborhood."
Most students in the area are not ready for college by the time they graduate, so schools have begun implementing college readiness courses starting in the 9th grade. San Antonio Independent School District has also expanded their pre-K classrooms to ensure that young children are prepared for kindergarten and beyond. Kindergarten readiness increased from 31% in 2014 to 41% in 2015.
Chronic absenteeism and high mobility rates remain a challenge, Burns said, but Sam Houston High School has already seen progress through programs such as My Brother's Keeper.
"The area has come a long way, and we are now at an 85% graduation rate. But we want to see that number higher," she said.
Other Notable Achievements:
- STEM program is being implemented in all schools.
- SAISD’s Community School opened at Wheatley Middle School.
- Enrollment is up 73% at the Early College High School at St. Philip’s College.
- IDEA Public Schools opened a K-12 charter school.
In 2015, violent crime in the Eastside decreased by 6%, compared to 3.7 % citywide, and property crime dropped by 13.3%. Despite a sharp spike in violent crime during the first half of 2016, the overall crime rates in the Eastside are still lower than previous years, said San Antonio Police Chief William McManus. SAPD has made progress on several homicide investigations, and that spike in crime has begun to level out, he said.
“It’s been extremely quiet and it's going to stay that way,” McManus told City Council members. “Violence was just off the charts for several weeks, but we made (four) key arrests and it’s sort of put a damper on that. Once (these individuals) go away in some shape or form, the violence stops and that’s what we’re seeing happen now.”
More information on these particular homicide investigations will be shared in the coming weeks, said Sgt. Jesse Salame, public information officer for SAPD.
McManus also said that SAPD is using a Byrne Criminal Justice Innovation Grant to increase the number of officers on foot and bike patrol, community engagement, and drive down crime over time.
SAPD and San Antonio Housing Authority officials are looking to use Group Violence Intervention (GVI) techniques to partner with anti-violence community partners to offer incentives such as social and employment services. Department officials will visit Kansas City in May to learn more about successful GVI programs
EastPoint also recorded huge jumps in the number of pets that were sprayed, neutered and microchipped, as well as the number of stray animals that were impounded.
McManus and EastPoint officials also discussed the impact of the Resurgence Collaborative, a one-stop shop for individuals and families that have been through the criminal justice system, that helps them adjust to public life after time behind bars.
"This shows that a collective impact model of about 20 partners can work to improve quality of life," Etienne said. "It's helping families and individuals find support and move into the job pipeline."
Housing, Streets and Infrastructure
The Eastside has long struggled with an aging housing stock and vacant properties. A lot of the gang violence and crime centered around SAHA's Wheatley Courts low-income housing complex. SAHA has used $30 million from the Choice Neighborhood Grant, Bexar County and the City to build the new East Meadows Development to replace the troubled housing project. EastPoint has seven projects from the 2012 bond come to fruition, including Menger Creek Park. Other improvements include $3.8 million in street projects and new sidewalks.
"There were previously a lot of challenges, both physically and socially with Wheatley. We decided to change that part of town," said SAHA interim President and CEO David Nisivoccia. East Meadows will include 412 mixed-income units and a BiblioTech.
SAHA expects 100% occupancy in 2017 and will soon hold a community meeting to share construction updates. The complex's senior living facility is expected to close in July, and the demolition of 30 vacant houses in the area is expected to be completed by Sept. 2016.
Other Choice Neighborhood programs included 12 business facade restoration grants, worth $25,000 each, provided by San Antonio For Growth on the Eastside (SAGE), and a community paint-a-thon to improve the appearance of buildings in the EastPoint area.
The federal designations and inner city development incentives have also helped attract more than $100 million in private investments to the Eastside. Businesses, living facilities and centers such as the Alamo Brewery and IDEA Carver Public School are attracting new families and new investors to the area.
Workforce development is a key priority for EastPoint, Etienne said, "but we recognize that we have citizens who lack the skills for good paying jobs." EastPoint has partnered with Alamo Colleges to provide job training to residents, and prepare them for the in-demand careers and vocations in those fields.
Since July 2015, 166 residents have received job training certificates through the college for in-demand occupations, and more than 250 job seekers received second interviews through the Promise Zone to Work job fairs. The Promise Zone has also partnered with Project Quest to connect with workforce development in the area.
Through SAGE's programing and grants, more than 20 businesses have opened, and 1,300 jobs were created and retained, according to city documents. Officials pointed out that the area's unemployment rate dropped to 11% from 15% during the last four years and poverty rate has decreased from 35% in 2010 to 31% in 2015.
Etienne and Burns agreed that the quality of early education is one of the biggest determining factors in the number of qualified individuals in the local workforce, but there must be community leaders to carry on these efforts once the federal grants expire.
Officials, with the help of City Manager Sheryl Sculley, have developed a Neighborhood Leadership Academy to inform neighborhood leaders about how city programs work and how they can effectively lead their communities. To date, 38 residents have successfully graduated from the program.
Child Health & Wellness
More children living in EastPoint have access to fruits and vegetables, despite living in a well-known food desert, Burns said. The area now hosts three farmer's markets with fruits and vegetables, a new urban farm currently under construction, and there are healthier foods and snacks being introduced by health partners like University Health System to students at community and school events.
"(EastPoint) also supported a variety of school and community based physical fitness programs ensuring that more than 750 students in 5th-12th grade had access to at least 60 minutes of physical fitness a day," Burns said. Other community events like the EastPoint 5K and the Taste of the Eastside have helped encourage healthy behaviors and active lifestyles.
Mayor Ivy Taylor and Councilman Alan Warrick (D2), who have represented and currently represent the Eastside respectively, praised EastPoint officials and partners for their work and encouraged them to look for ways to continue these positive initiatives after the funding ends.
“You can’t undo decades of disinvestment (in an area) with a couple of five-year grants," Taylor said.
"It's good to see growth and opportunity, because it's all investment in a community that has seen very little investment for the past 40 to 50 years," said Warrick, who added that he was particularly proud of the decline in unemployment.
Top Image: Children line up in anticipation of hearing a guest speaker during MLK Dream Week in Eastside San Antonio. Photo by Scott Ball.