Arlington Unity Council discusses strategies to address the inequities exposed by COVID-19

The plaza outside city hall in downtown sits empty April 13 in Arlington.

Arlington’s Unity Council discussed inequities brought to light by COVID-19 in preparation for its community outreach sessions in their virtual meeting Tuesday.

In his presentation, Henry Cisneros, former secretary of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, said the way people think about equity and the future differs from any generation of municipal leaders or citizens before.

From medical care, the digital divide and transportation issues, Cisneros discussed the changes in cities’ responsibilities and how to address them.

A fair distribution of medical facilities and clinics can help cities anticipate how a pandemic affects different people of various incomes, he said. In a time without a pandemic, the assignment focus could be on nutrition and better living.

Extending fair access to public health across the board is an equity issue, Cisneros said.

Creating a strategy that ends the digital divide and allows fair access to the internet was another point Cisneros brought up.

During the first months of the pandemic, students were required to learn from home utilizing the internet. Using his city of San Antonio as an example, Cisneros said buses with broadband boosters were sent out to neighborhoods without access to high-speed internet for students to utilize.

New initiatives that allow people below the poverty line access to transportation is also essential, he said. In a city of San Antonio poll, Cisneros said people riding public transportation during the pandemic were below the poverty line, with a majority of them lacking a household vehicle but still needing to go to work.

Cisneros likened the business of economic mobility to a two-fisted punch, with one addressing business growth needs and the other making it work for people.

Following Cisneros’ presentation, council members broke out in groups to discuss topics of interest.

Unity Council member Heidi Hardy said her group talked about mental health issues with an emphasis on the city’s responsibility to make a change.

Disparities in access to mental health resources became blaringly obvious during the pandemic, she said. Providing the right kind of mental health to different groups, from children to police officers, is something cities should consider.

Unity Council member Pam Roach said no matter what policies are changed, the Arlington community needs a change of heart.

In her past experiences in city leadership positions, Roach said public transportation and affordable housing were opposed by people who didn’t want certain demographics in their areas.

While the city has come a long way, she said when it comes to making change, the same people push back. Finding out how to change a “Not in my backyard” mind-set to be more empathetic is crucial in achieving equity success, she said.

Chairperson Jason Shelton said the Unity Council is nearing its halfway point. The council will contact community members for interviews soon.

The next Unity Council meeting is scheduled for Oct. 20 at 6 p.m.

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