New City Improvement Projects To Be Prioritized by Equity, Vulnerability of Communities

By Philip Hughes-Luing

Racial equity, poverty, geographic equity, and social vulnerability were approved unanimously at the February 17, 2021 meeting of the City Council as criteria for how Albuquerque’s Capital Improvement Project (CIP) administers approved capital expenditures, effective 2023. The ordinance was co-sponsored by Councilors Klarissa Peña (3rd district) and Lan Sena (1st district).

A similar ordinance, introduced by Councilor Isaac Benton (2nd district), had been approved by the Council directing the City’s 2019 general obligation bond program to fund programs and projects in underserved neighborhoods, but had expired with that cycle. The new ordinance will govern all budget cycles henceforth unless revoked.

When introduced, the new ordinance cited racial equity as a criterion for expending CIP funds. An amendment proposed by Councilor Trudy Jones (4th  district) added geographic equity, and one by Council President Cynthia Borrego, added the word “poverty” as a criterion.

The CIP process will be informed by the city’s Office of Equity and Inclusion’s “opportunity index map,” which shows poverty, unemployment, and education levels, and by a council district map which shows data on poverty and race. Additionally, the U.S. Center for Disease Control’s Social Vulnerability Index map will be available as a resource.

According to a CDC statement issued on April 8, 2021: Racism—both interpersonal and structural—negatively affects the mental and physical health of millions of people, preventing them from attaining their highest level of health, and consequently, affecting the health of our nation.

Councilor Sena commented, “Coming from a Public Health perspective, this has long been a conversation. Communities of color have seen this, lived with this. We know this.” She noted that communities of color and essential workers, those hit hardest by the COVID-19 pandemic, also lack sidewalks, drainage, community centers to provide basic access to the internet for information on resources and advisories on how to cope with the pandemic. 

“Moving out of the pandemic,” she says, “we need to build on the national conversation about social justice, including economic justice and racial equity. It is critical that these conversations continue about the need for infrastructure to provide clean water, information, the internet.”

Councilor Peña, whose background is in community work around racial and economic issues, commented, “All that has happened this past year — the George Floyd protests, for example, has served to educate society to the disparities experienced by communities of color. Now seemed the obvious and appropriate time for this measure.”