AUGUST 1, 2023 — Two decades of data could help illustrate the endless push and pull San Antonio is experiencing as a result of changing socioeconomics, lending a voice to local residents impacted by gentrification.
Esteban López Ochoa, an assistant professor in the UTSA School of Architecture and Planning, is developing an interactive neighborhood change dashboard, funded by a $47,000 grant from the National Association of Latino Community Asset Builders (NALCAB), via the UTSA Center for Urban and Regional Planning Research (CURPR).
Using 2000 through 2021 data from the U.S. Census Bureau, the dashboard will offer an accessible way to track neighborhood change pressures that can lead to gentrification in neighborhoods across the country. The dashboard, he said, can track socioeconomic and housing changes at the census track level that will be available on a national scale, giving a voice to communities impacted by gentrification.
“It’s huge,” López Ochoa said. “We’re going to be able to showcase and allow anybody to search neighborhood change pressures across the United States at the state and county levels. The 10-year census data will allow users to choose a period and see the trends. That will help us gain a more historical perspective on neighborhoods that have been stable but are now changing rapidly.”
San Antonio is a Sun Belt city, a term used to describe cities in the South and Southwest portions of the U.S. with warm sunny climates. These areas are experiencing rapid population and economic growth.
San Antonio’s external appeal, however, poses a problem; the city already lacks space for its own occupants.
“One of the fastest changing areas of San Antonio is Census Tract 1919, which corresponds to the Dignowity Hill neighborhood on the eastside,” López Ochoa said.
In 2015, the neighborhood’s average median home value was estimated at $69,000. It grew considerably in six years to $271,000 in 2021. Similarly, the median income jumped from $26,000 in 2015 to $55,000 in 2021.
“The dashboard will allow local communities to identify areas of rapid change, understand what the drivers are and voice their concerns with hard numbers that were not readily available for them before,” López Ochoa further said. “There’s not a problem with neighborhoods improving their socioeconomic conditions because we want neighborhoods to thrive. The problem is when that change happens at the expense of those with less resources to cope with it, especially when we have a tight market, that change comes with displacement.”
He added, “We want to see how people can keep their businesses and flourish new businesses, but at the same time ensure that those residents are not getting pushed out because of higher forces at play. We’ve been seeing that happen a lot in San Antonio across the years at different rates.”
The first step toward a solution is implementing the best method to track neighborhood changes, López Ochoa explained.
While the data provided by the Census Bureau offers a piece of the puzzle, López Ochoa is filling in the gaps with complementary data sets containing demographic and socioeconomic information to develop a clearer picture of San Antonio. This additional data includes information at the micro-mobility level for about 85% of the city’s population. Data points include estimates of incomes, ethnicity and how residents move across the city.
“There are a lot of socioeconomic characteristics that are helpful for tracking residential mobility. We can track mobility with the Census data and still miss what’s happening within the variation. But we use other data that will help us create a better index,” López Ochoa said. “We developed an algorithm to identify if residents moved in the last year, if they were replaced by a person with higher income or if they’re paying higher rent or making larger mortgage payments for that same house.”
This improved model will enable López Ochoa and other researchers to distinguish between exact gentrification pressures, where residents are priced out of their homes and neighborhoods, and scenarios in which residents themselves received an income raise.
“If you were replaced by somebody else with a higher socioeconomic status, that’s by definition gentrification.”
López Ochoa joined the UTSA faculty in 2021 as an assistant professor in urban planning. His academic and research specialties include spatial inequalities and housing in particular as well as labor and education markets. He earned his B.S. in business at the Universidad de Tarapacá in Arica, Chile and his M.S. in regional science from the Universidad Católica del Norte in Antofagasta, Chile. After that, he obtained an M.S. in agricultural and applied economics and a Ph.D. in regional planning from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
The neighborhood change dashboard is anticipated for completion by the end of 2023.
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