AARP Debate Focuses on Quality of Life for Senior Citizens
Palo Alto College’s Center for Performing Arts in South San Antonio served as the stage for AARP’s annual showdown between the frontrunners of the city’s mayoral election. Live-streamed by NOWCastSA and produced by GA Media Productions, the debate featured two candidates who have been no strangers to debates in recent weeks, Mayor Ron Nirenberg and District 6 Councilman Greg Brockhouse. Utilizing rules established by Texas Public Radio, Elaine Ayala, San Antonio Express-News columnist and moderator for the AARP Debate, posed questions to the two competitors and kept them on track during the hour-long debate centered around “quality of life” issues important to San Antonio’s population aged 50 and over.
Candidates were asked about their plans to improve living conditions for San Antonio’s vulnerable aging population, a constituent group which accounts for a large portion of the voting population in Bexar County. When asked how Mayor Nirenberg would “ensure San Antonians aged 50 plus can live their best life possible, regardless of their zip code,” the Mayor pointed to San Antonio’s “first ever comprehensive and compassionate housing strategy,” which SanAntonio.gov describes as a “policy framework to address the pressing affordable housing challenges that our city faces with input from community stakeholders.” Nirenberg emphasized that the plan still needs to be implemented and that he promises to do so if re-elected.
As with previous debates, Councilman Brockhouse appeared to struggle with timing his responses, however he did manage to rebut the first question saying in part, “We’re living longer, we’re gonna be employed longer,” highlighting San Antonio’s need for workforce education opportunities.
An audience member, lamenting many senior citizens’ concerns over skyrocketing rent and property taxes, directed a question at Councilman Brockhouse asking, “What is affordable housing and what does it mean? My community feels we are being pushed out of our neighborhoods.” Brockhouse agreed with the questioner stating, “It’s not a ‘feel you’re being pushed out of your neighborhoods,’ you are being pushed out!” Reiterating his initial remarks about the need for workforce training opportunities for those aged 50 plus, he added that the “Bexar County Appraisal District is over-valuing” citizen’s properties and that the value systems need to be corrected.
In response, Mayor Nirenberg pointed to his administration’s involvement on “focused property tax relief,” as well as his launch of a “top down review of the Bexar Appraisal District process.”
One particularly hot button issue throughout the election has been the Chick-Fil-A vote; asked by his constituents where he stands on the vote, Councilman Brockhouse responded curtly, declaring his unwavering support for the faith community, and labeling the controversy a “religious freedom issue” which has become a “national embarrassment.”
Mayor Nirenberg later quipped that he wished “the councilman were as excited to talk about housing and transportation and equity as he is about fast food.” Although the Mayor stated that he applauds Chick-Fil-A for their faith-based business model, he claims he did not take Chick-Fil-A’s previous donations into consideration when casting his vote, suggesting that it had more to do with aesthetics and the locality of vendor options. “When [1.5 million] people walk through [the airport] on Sunday, that they’re walking through a full array of options, not a darkened food court,” stated Nirenberg. “We need to have local businesses there.”
The topic of gentrification also came up several times. When asked, “How will you protect our existing neighborhoods from the negative effects of gentrification?’ Brockhouse chose The Pearl as an example of “how to lose a community,” pointing to developers who take advantage of senior communities by pressuring and “harassing our seniors to sell their properties.” His solution would be to spread funds across San Antonio “so developers are out working everywhere,” stating that funds are often focused on certain areas for too long, forcing people out their communities due to rising costs.
Nirenberg then proposed a “targeted relief to ease the cost burden of homes for people who are the most disadvantaged,” referring to work being done by his administration at the local and state level. According to the Mayor, an example of this would be the previously mentioned “comprehensive and compassionate housing strategy” which includes a “displacement presentation strategy, as well as a risk mitigation tool” to relieve the burden of those who are most disadvantaged.