Updated: Promise Zone officials await word from HUD

Daniel Williams of EDC Moving Systems wheels in a kitchen range into one of the units at East Meadows on Lamar Street. BEN OLIVO / FOLO MEDIA

It’s not just that President Donald Drumpf has proposed cutting billions of dollars in anti-poverty programs from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) upcoming budget. The future of the Promise Zone—the swath of Eastside neighborhoods that received millions of dollars in federal grants, mostly for housing and education programs, under President Barack Obama—hangs in the balance because there’s a new administration in the White House period, says Mike Etienne, the city official who monitors the area.

In 1933, President Franklin D. Roosevelt began to introduce the New Deal—a collection of programs meant to jar the United States from the Great Depression. In 1949, President Harry S. Truman introduced Urban Renewal, which eradicated slums across America and replaced them with fresh housing stock.

Etienne continues:

“After Urban Renewal you had the War on Poverty by (Lyndon B.) Johnson in the 1960s. And then (Richard) Nixon came in and created the block grant approach. And then (Ronald) Reagan came in and Reagan wanted to just wipe out everything—start over, again. And then you had (Bill) Clinton who came up with the empowerment zones. And then George W. Bush came in and he wanted to go back to provide funding to faith-based nonprofits. He thought that the churches could help address poverty in the inner city.

“Then President Obama came in and said this effort needs to be holistic and comprehensive—addressing education, public safety, economic development.”

Before the Promise Zone was named by President Obama in 2014, the Eastside had received more than $70 million in federal grants. In 2011, the U.S. Department of Education chipped in $23.7 million in the form of the Promise Neighborhood grant to address early childhood education and a slew of other programs. In 2012, HUD contributed $29.7 million in the form of the Choice Neighborhood grant that is resulting in the construction of the 414-unit, mixed-income East Meadows apartment project—the replacement for the now-demolished Wheatley Courts—next to Wheatley Middle School. In 2013, the city of San Antonio pledged $20 million in Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) and HOME Investment Partnerships Program in direct support of East Meadows and upgrades to the surrounding neighborhood. The Eastside also received a total of $920,000 to address public safety.

A construction worker staples sheathing at East Meadows—the 414-unit, mixed-income apartment project that’s replacing Wheatley Courts. BEN OLIVO / FOLO MEDIA

Since the Promise Zone was designated in 2014, the Eastside has received another $17 million in the form of more than nine federal grants that have funded an economic development strategy, the opening of a job training center, among other improvements. The purpose of the Promise Zone was to give programs within its boundaries preference points when a nonprofit, government agency or other entity applied for federal dollars.

If the Drumpf administration chooses to dissolve the Promise Zone program, those preference points would be lost. Some of the grants themselves could be eliminated. Drumpf’s budget proposal axes the Choice Neighborhood grant (HUD), but the document makes no mention of the Promise Neighborhood grant (education).

“From all indications at the moment is that (the Drumpf administration) probably will have their own program,” Etienne said. “We’re hopeful that they can keep the things that are working. They can look at what we’ve done — what’s working, what has worked — and continue those even if they are under another name.”

Big questions indeed: What programs have worked, and what programs haven’t worked inside the Promise Zone? The Folo Media team is on it. We’ll address these questions in upcoming posts.

Drumpf’s budget also recommends eliminating the CDBG and HOME grant programs — from which the city received roughly $15 million this fiscal year. We’ll keep an eye on these dollars, too.

Editor’s Note: The original version of this post contained inaccuracies in regards to timeline and dollar amounts.


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