By DIANE XAVIER
The Dallas Examiner
Dallas is the ninth largest city in the nation and as the area continues to grow in population, the Dallas City Council and Mayor Eric Johnson had discussions of making the city more equitable for all of its citizens. Equity would ensure that all people have an opportunity to thrive despite its past history of inequity and decades of institutionalized policies and practices toward minority groups that have led to social and economic injustice.
To achieve this goal, the city of Dallas Office of Equity and Inclusion partnered with the Communities Foundation of Texas to present its fourth annual Equity Indicators Symposium at Paul Quinn College, Jan. 13.
The forum focused on the Racial Equity Plan report, which examined disparities discovered in the Dallas Equity Indicators Report from 2019.
It focused on 60 different indicators of disparities grouped into five key areas such as economic opportunity, education, neighborhoods and infrastructure, justice and government and public health.
Guest speakers included Elizabeth Reynoso, associate director of Living Cities; Denise Belser, program director at Economic Opportunity and Financial Empowerment of National League of Cities; and District 5 City Council member Jaime Resendez, Workforce, Education and Equity committee member.
Dallas County declared racism a public health crisis in 2021 and has been working with various community leaders, citizens and organizations to address the issue and help overcome systemic racism.
The city scored 39.77 out of 100 in its 2019 report, which is an increase of 1.02 from 38.75 in 2018.
Belser encouraged everyone to advocate as a community to make sure workers earn a living wage.
“You can’t do it alone and the city can’t do it alone,” Belser said. “Everybody has a role to play in this ecosystem such as philanthropists and community organizers. Having those relationships and hearing from individuals in the community and listening to the issues, we can find resources that families need.”
Resendez agreed with Besler and commented that people must work together to find solutions to help eradicate the economic disparities and injustices.
“One of the partnerships I suggest is partnering with the banks,” Resendez said. “The City Council passed the responsible banking ordinance, which allows banks to invest in underserved areas because people do need access to capital and credit. And that’s going to help benefit all of us to start businesses and allow people to become homeowners.”
The equity report revealed the following:
Economic opportunity – People of color and White women continue to face severe disparities in access to capital to start small, entrepreneurial businesses that can build wealth and financial equity. Also, not all Dallas residents have access to jobs with a livable wage, despite the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex having the highest job growth in the country.
Education – Black middle school students in Dallas were 15 times more likely than White students to be suspended. Education in the general population scored the lowest of all 24 topics in the report, and the adults with no high school diploma earned the lowest possible score of 1.
Neighborhoods and infrastructure – The burden of a lack of access to affordable housing and services disproportionately fell on people of color. Black and Hispanic households were around three times more likely than White households to lack internet access, a disparity that increased in the second year.
Justice and government – In a recent community survey, residents of all racial and ethnic groups rated the sense of community as needing improvement and rated their overall satisfaction with government services between fair and good on average.
Public health – Black mothers were 60% less likely to have access prenatal care during their first trimester than White mothers.
Environmental Quality and Sustainability
The next panel started with a discussion about sustainable change for residents.
Carlos Evans, director of the Office of Environmental Quality and Sustainability for the city of Dallas, started the discussion about his department and its relation to the racial equity plan.
“We are developing a neighborhood level air monitoring program so we can understand air quality throughout the city,” Evans said. “We also want to develop a map throughout the city addressing air concerns in certain areas and land contamination concerns and water quality concerns. We also want to clean up contaminated properties and revitalize them as part of the racial equity plan.”
He said certain communities have suffered more than necessary due to racial inequalities.
“As we know, in the city, many tools have been used to make sure that certain communities are disproportionately impacted, anywhere from race-based restrictions, to segregated zoning, redlining, and the like,” He explained. “Those things have pushed our communities of color to the fence. In certain communities, we know that all too often, many of our communities of color, have more contaminated properties too often. Many of our communities of color are prone to flooding. All too often, many of our houses are not energy efficient and vulnerable to extreme weather events. So what we’re doing is we’re integrating racial equity and environmental justice, all of our programs, whether it be stormwater, water conservation, whether it be their compliance, their monitoring, brownfields, urban agriculture, whether it be access to energy efficiency tools to that to community solar programs, all of these things will have the component to advance racial equity.”
Access to housing is considered one of the most important issues for local residents.
Thor Erickson, assistant director of Housing and Revitalization for the city, discussed how his department is trying to close the housing gap inequities that people have experienced.
“When we look at homeownership, there’s a lot of factors that go into it,” he said. “It’s not just about having enough money for a down payment. It’s about buying into a neighborhood to have the amenities that you want to support. We know that there’s housing across the city everywhere from a $50,000 house to multi-million dollar depending on your access to wealth or opportunity. The Housing Department focuses on mixed income housing developments. We often support development of new single-family homes, which will be offered to a buyer who’s making 80% of the area median income or below, giving a person an opportunity. Zones don’t exist anywhere in the city. They exist in areas where we were able to secure land for a pretty affordable price.”
The city also plans to use an equity access atlas map that determines communities most in need of resources and help communities most in need to help them get more access to capital.