The Eastside Neighborhood has historically been one of the most challenged communities in San Antonio. In 2010, blight was pervasive, with over 180 vacant lots and abandoned structures. The dropout rate at Sam Houston High School hovered around 46% and close to 43% of adults in the area did not graduate from High School. 44% of the households were living below the federal poverty level and safety and security were elusive.
Today, this long-neglected neighborhood is benefitting from four major federal designations: a Choice Neighborhood Implementation Grant, a Byrne Criminal Justice Grant, a Promise Neighborhood Implementation Grant and a Promise Zone. Together, these grants and designations are working to holistically improve the neighborhood through targeted investments in housing, people, education, economic development, services, and safety measures.
The FY2012 Choice grant focuses on the redevelopment of the isolated and distressed 246-unit Wheatley Courts public housing site into a 412-home, mixed-income neighborhood called East Meadows. Built in three phases, the new community is walkable, sustainable, and inter-generational and have improved connections to the broader neighborhood. The community includes 332 homes for families in one-to-four-bedroom garden apartments and townhouses and 80 one and two bedroom homes in a universally-designed building for seniors. At the heart of the community is a two acre park with both passive and active space for all residents of the neighborhood. A mixed-use building on Walters Avenue houses a BiblioTech, an all-digital public library that works to bridge literacy and technology gaps in low-income communities.
In a parallel effort, a series of Neighborhood initiatives are also being undertaken. The Neighborhood initiatives include increasing green space (the “lungs” of the community), establishing community gardens and a fresh-food co-op, improving pedestrian and transit connectivity, building infill housing and rehabbing acquired single family properties, incentivizing neighborhood-level retail and services as well as business relocation, establishing a new community center and creating a retail façade program.
The Human Capital, or “People” Initiatives are being implemented in coordination with the Promise Neighborhood team. Led by Urban Strategies, Inc., the People Initiatives include improving education at every level, strengthening the relationship with the City of San Antonio Police Department and other partners and coordinating with the Byrne Grant to promote a safe neighborhood, creating new workforce career ladders and partnering with growing industries, making job creation a priority for policy makers and local businesses, ensuring the lowest-income residents have access to wrap-around services, including healthcare and encouraging a sense of community, neighborhood stability and cohesion through promotion of programs and activities that bring people together. Examples of community building activities include block parties, community gardens, and movies in the park and back to school programs.
The future of the Eastside is bright. Anchored by the newly-constructed East Meadows Apartments and supported through Human Capital programs and a comprehensive neighborhood plan, the Eastside is moving beyond the challenges of the past and growing into a vibrant, welcoming, diverse, desirable place that people from all backgrounds are choosing to call home.