Local LULAC’s ‘State Of Latino’ guide is helpful summary of best practices

Juan Rodriguez and Mary Lou Rodriguez dance as Celsius band performs during The La Condesa 7th-Annual Cinco de Mayo Downtown Block Party on Tuesday, May 5, 2015. Cinco de Mayo is the celebration of the 1862 Mexican victory at the Battle of Puebla over France, which occupied Mexico. The May 5th holiday has come to be a sort of Hispanic St. Patrick's Day in the United States that is celebrated by people of every ethnic background. (RICARDO B. BRAZZIELL / AMERICAN-STATESMAN)

Juan Rodriguez and Mary Lou Rodriguez dance as Celsius band performs during The La Condesa 7th-Annual Cinco de Mayo Downtown Block Party on Tuesday, May 5, 2015. (RICARDO B. BRAZZIELL / AMERICAN-STATESMAN)

In an increasingly gentrified city, even well-intentioned projects can have a negative effect on existing communities if the overall needs of a specific population aren’t taken into consideration.

So then, how can policymakers avoid overlooking obvious solutions? Members of the League of United Latin American Citizens District XII say they have an answer: Read the recommendations in its recently released “State Of Latinos Austin Texas 2016” guide.

The report, which was presented last month, is a summary of best practices, existing projects and other initiatives already underway in various sectors in Austin. The compilation of so much information offers valuable insight. With a still new 10-1 Austin City Council structure, it makes sense to have a resource that council members can use to familiarize themselves with many of these initiatives as they work on new policies and programs.

The document, LULAC’s District XII members say, aims to “provide some guidance on deliberate steps toward ending persistent racial outcome disparities in specific policy areas.” There’s no way around it; because of Austin’s history of discrimination, disadvantages associated with race remain deeply embedded in the city.

As a solution, LULAC’s report lists three reminders for social change. They are:

  • Include equity as a criteria for inclusion and prioritization of policies.
  • Target benefits to Latinos and other vulnerable populations.
  • Prioritize the provision of resources where they’re most needed.

Currently, the catch-all term that addresses much of the inequalities that persist is “affordability.” But as we all know, affordability doesn’t have the same meaning for everyone. For many low-income individuals and families — of which the majority are Latino and African-American — affordability can equate to the ability to meet basic necessities. And, as history shows, helping low-income residents has rarely been a priority for Austin’s leaders and policymakers.

But things are changing.

Today, local leaders and organizations are increasingly partaking in crucial conversations about affordability and inequality in Austin. Much good work is already being done – including in the business, health, housing and education sectors – to address the issue. However, many of those efforts are fragmented.

That’s bad news. When policymakers don’t have the whole picture, it’s easy for things to get lost in the cracks, members of LULAC’s District XII say. That’s why they created the report.

“The guide is a reminder, and a starting point in some cases, for city leaders to focus attention on specific details and to identify core issues and introduce the vocabulary of racial equity into conversations,” Cynthia Valadez, a member of the group, told me.

The concerns outlined by the document align with the city’s Hispanic Quality of Life initiative, which aims to determine what the city can do to improve opportunities and living experiences for Hispanics, a historically underserved community. Since launching the initiative in 2008, the city invested in demographic research and analysis, collected community feedback and had an oversight committee in 2013 – the Hispanic Latino Quality of Life Resource Advisory Commission – present a final report with recommendations.

Following the recommendations of the 2013 report, the city has made some changes, like increasing funding and expanding programs at the Department Health and Human Services, as well as creating a Hispanic/Latino Leadership Program at the Emma S. Barrientos Mexican American Cultural Center.

What about all the other recommendations made in the report? What’s the status of those?

As David Green, the city’s media relations manager, told me, “there isn’t a single master list of the myriad actions the city has taken in regards to the recommendations from the June 2013 report.” It makes sense to have a master list to reference, which could act as a reminder of what else needs to be done.

What’s next for the Hispanic Latino Quality of Life Resource Advisory Commission is presenting a summary later this year that will outline actions and more recommendations, Green said in an email.

It would be wise for the committee to take a good look at LULAC’s guide to ensure the best outcomes for all present and future initiatives targeting low-income Austinites.

Looking forward, the LULAC guide will not only benefit city leaders and policymakers, it could become a vital instrument for the person who serves as the city’s chief equity officer – a newly created seat that has no official start date. That post will lead the newly formed city of Austin’s Diversity and Equity Office. The creation of the office was a direct result of the requests made by Hispanic/Latino Quality of Life Advisory Commission members. Currently, the city is searching for a candidate for the job and has scheduled community forums for feedback about which qualities Austinites would like to see in this new leader.

With so much work still left on the affordability front, the LULAC guide would be a useful tool of reference for all city leaders.