investment. A single-story building like that is more expensive to convert than two stories. We had a tenement in East El Paso, two stories, that we brought up to the code. It was cheaper because we could fix the plumbing for a bottom and top unit at the same time.” Telles is improving the St. Vrain building because he got a notice from the city. He said he had improved one other building on his own initiative. “Most of the owners tear down their buildings when the city sends them a notice. Less than 10 percent of the owners improve their property. You make more money improving them. I think the other landlords are making a mistake.” All the city officials I talked to said that most tenement dwellers could not afford to pay more rent, so the landlords had to demolish their buildings rather than pay for improvements out of their own pockets. Telles disagrees. “All of them can afford more rent. Some make more money than I do.” During a squabble with the city tax assessor-collector, Telles mentioned that he owns, among other property, 22 bars in the city. “Property in South El Paso is going to be very valuable one of these days. If I had the money to invest, I would buy a lot of it,” he says. The area is now zoned for commercial and light industrial uses. Besides a major strip of stores on South Stanton Street, selling to Juarez shoppers, there is little commercial or industrial use now. When Wyler Industries, which does light sheet-metal work in its plant on South St. Vrain, sought city approval of expansion plans, dozens of persons appeared at city council and planning commission meetings to protest. “Those weren’t neighbors,” Telles said. “They were just troublemakers.” One of the spokesmen, Guillermo Glen, who was then a leader of the South El Paso Committee for Better Housing, has since moved to San Antonio. The city has plans to redevelop much of the area, Valencia said. Phase One of the plan, which calls for clearing and rebuilding a tract from Kansas Street east, is nearly ready to put in final form, Valencia indicated, but the city government doesn’t want to be hasty. “We’re interested in doing everything possible,” he said, “but we need time to plan and think.” In its present form, the plan is for a mixture of residential and business uses. Valencia, like Telles, discounts the significance of the protests of Wyler Industries’ plan. As it is, most of the residents of the Segundo Barrio work near their homes. Eight census tracts which form the heart of the area held, in 1970, 17 percent of the city’s workers and 46 percent of those who walked to work. If there were more business in the area, it might help ease an unemployment situation that is pretty bad even by the official figures. In 1970, 8 percent of the labor force in those same eight census tracts was unemployed. At the same time, the unemployment rate for the rest of the city was 4.3 percent. There’s no reason to think that the difference has gotten any better as the general unemployment rate has climbed. The unemployment figures, and nearly every other statistic about El Paso, mask a secret which nobody talks about here: the economy of the city depends on illegal aliens. The “illegals” help to keep wages down, so that industries think about moving here. They work as maids, so that white women can work. They also constitute a significant part of the market for low-cost housing and other poverty-level goods and services. But because the “illegals” do not go out of their way to bring themselves to the attention of the government \(except, when not counted in census or unemployment figures, even though they are part of whatever problems unemployment creates. South El Paso, with more than its share of reported unemployment \(and of use at least one of two changes: more jobs in the immediate area and better public transportation which is to say, anything more than the skeleton transit service now available. Putting business in the area brings vocal opposition, and mass transit has been a much-talked-about, low-priority topic for years. Whatever redevelopment is to be done will require a large change in ownership patterns. Many of the tenement owners, even those who could expect a variance on parking, could not meet the city’s setback requirements. Once you allow five feet on each side, there’s not much you can build on a single 25-foot lot. Telles owns only a handful of tenements in the Segundo Barrio. J. J. Anchondo is one of the two largest owners and managers of tenements in the area, a status not made clear by his modest storefront office. Anchondo said that there was no way he could improve his properties to code standards; when the city calls, he begins planning demolition. “There are many old people in this area,” he said. “They do not want to leave the place where they have spent so many years. Many of them, if they can’t get into the projects, can’t afford to live anyplace else. When we have to tear a building down, they double up with others. That doesn’t help anything.” The office was rarely empty while we were talking. One or two at a time, would-be customers came in to look at the bulletin board for a vacancy. “There are no empty places in South El Paso,” Anchondo said. “Whenever we have a vacancy, there are 10 or 12 people waiting. There is no place else where people can find such low rents.” SOME STATISTICS In 1970, Mexican-Americans in the eight central census tracts paid from 15 to 20 percent of their incomes for rent and utilities. Their rents ranged from $35 to $65 a month. In the northeast part of the city, Mexican-Americans paid a median of $151 per month, or 28.3 percent of their income, for gross rent. In 1970, 69 percent of the residents of the eight central census tracts were firstor second-generation. In the rest of the city, the figure was 36 percent. Of the city’s 55 census tracts, only 13 had sent less than a quarter of their adult population through college. Six of the 13 are among the “big eight” the census tracts in the central city. Two of those six had 8.5 and 5.8, respectively, college graduates among every 100 residents over 25. The figure for the city as a whole was 56.5 percent. In the third quarter of 1974, the city police received and dispatched 39,810 calls. Almost 27 percent came from the “big eight,” which have only 11 percent of the population. No statistics on health in the “big eight” are available. Dr. Bernard F. Rosenblum, director of the City-County Health Department, said he did not have enough manpower to produce that kind of information. One city inspector guessed that 80 percent of the residences in South El Paso don’t meet housing code standards. In 1970, the city’s planning department said that El Paso would need 4,109 new housing units per year to meet its requirements. In 1973, the net increase was 6,815 units. Between the 1970 census and Jan. 1, 1974, the population of the “big eight” dropped 14 percent, and total housing units increased 0.3 percent. For the rest of the city, population grew about 15 percent; dwelling units increased almost 23 percent. In 1973, the city planners ranked census tracts by their degree of blight. The “big eight” rated numbers 1 , 2, 3, 5, 7, 8, 9, and 13. About 70 percent of the city’s workers make less than $5,000 a year. In 1970, 15 census tracts had more than 30 percent of households below the poverty level. All eight of the central South El Paso tracts were included. THE FUTURE A city inspector said, “In one of the tenements I was inspecting I met a pretty little 14-year-old girl. She said she was not going to school. I asked her why she wasn’t. She said the only heat they had was kerosene and the smell got into all her clothes. When she went to school, everyone could tell she lived in a tenement. She’s in public housing now, and going to school.” Ray Pearson said it is too soon to tell how much public housing will be built after the currently-contracted units are done. “A man would be a fool to predict,” he said, “until he knows what that new March 14, 1975 7
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