December 7th, 2013 by Frank

When I look at Jaime, I see a 12-year-old boy with tons of potential. Once homeless, living with his physically disabled single mom, and uncertain where his next meal was going to come from, Jaime’s life trajectory has dramatically changed for the better. Through the housing and services provided through Green Doors, he has a place to sleep and do his homework, is secure that he will get to eat three meals a day, and feels safe to play outside. He has been provided with the opportunity for a fair shot at a decent life. So many of our fellow Austinites never get that shot.

Recently, my organization, Green Doors, and the Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity released “The Geography of Opportunity in Austin and How It Is Changing,” an in-depth analysis of the geographic footprint of opportunity in our community in terms of education, housing, economics, health and environment. Using GIS mapping software and a robust set of 20 socioeconomic indicators, we were able to create “opportunity maps” that visually show us what neighborhoods and blocks are rich and poor in opportunity. Opportunity here is defined as a situation or condition that places individuals in a position to be more likely to succeed or excel. And, where you live largely shapes your access to opportunity.

Not surprisingly, despite the robust socioeconomic growth of the greater Austin area, all boats are not rising. The Austin metro area is becoming more and more a tale of two cities — the Haves and Have Not A Lot at All. There is a stark geographic opportunity divide in our community. It is a crescent of inequality that spans from North Central Austin over Interstate 35 into East Austin, and finishes its reach into far South Austin. Opportunity poor neighborhoods tend to have much higher crime, poverty and unemployment rates and much lower household income, educational attainment and property values.

These neighborhoods also tend to be racially segregated. African-Americans and Latinos are geographically isolated from higher opportunity neighborhoods in the Austin area. Fifty-nine percent and 62 percent of African-Americans and Latinos, respectively, live in low opportunity neighborhoods, compared to only 26 Microsoft Visio Professional 2016 online percent of whites. This opportunity segregation is especially stark for Latino children and educational opportunity: 63 percent of Latino children attend schools in low educational opportunity neighborhoods versus 20 percent of white children.

To highlight this point, we compared several opportunity indicators for a neighborhood block in the Rundberg area and a block in Tarrytown. The contrast is striking. A child, most likely Latino, living in the Rundberg block goes to a school with a 97 percent school poverty rate and 30:1 student-teacher ratio. He/she also lives on a block with a 25 percent poverty rate and 12 percent unemployment rate. And, he/she lives on a block where, on average, household income is $34,000 and homes are valued at $157,000. On the other side of town, a child, most likely white, living in the Tarrytown block goes to a school with a 3 percent school poverty rate and 17:1 student-teacher ratio. He/she also lives on a block with a 3 percent poverty rate and 2 percent unemployment rate. And, he/she lives on a block where, on average, household income is $248,000 and homes are valued at $1 million.

These indicators point to the very different worlds these children live in. It’s unlikely that the child from Rundberg will ever get the same experiences as her counterpart in Tarrytown. To be clear, just because certain neighborhoods are low in opportunity does not mean that they are low in value or culture, or in their sense of community. However, the lack of access to those conditions that enable success, like stable housing, great schools, quality health services and reliable transportation, are limiting to that child’s life prospects. And, that is wrong and something we should not abide in our community.

We have an obligation to the children in Rundberg and Dove Springs, and the disabled single moms and veterans in Pecan Springs and Rosewood, to ensure that they access a level of opportunity that gives them a fair shot at a decent life.

Our opportunity mapping report is meant to highlight in a visual, quantitative way the geographic opportunity divide that exists in our community and begin the public discourse of translating this data into action that increases opportunity for all Central Texans, especially the most vulnerable.