A City of San Antonio employee helps a resident apply for rental relief during a housing assistance clinic. The city has conducted regular, widespread outreach to quickly get its ERA funding to renters. Photo by Matteo Treviño, director of policy for San Antonio City Council member Ana Sandoval

When you measure success, what yardstick matters? Is it OK to not be the worst? Or do we strive to be among the best?

These are questions I consider frequently, but most recently while editing reporter Jacob Steimer’s Friday story on the federal emergency rental assistance program. Last month, he explored how Memphis-Shelby County’s program has fallen short, which a program leader acknowledges, but she also said she’s proud of her work.

If we define success primarily as effort, then that’s almost certainly true as I’m confident local officials are working as hard as they know how. The half of my brain that channels my therapist says: Don’t beat yourself up for doing the best you can with what you have.

My brain’s perfectionist/idealistic half says: Effort is great, but results are better. And if a flawed local system means that families who could have had their back rent paid are instead being evicted, despite the tens of millions available to keep them in their homes, then Memphis-Shelby County is falling short.

Memphis-Shelby County has distributed 52% of the first round of ERA money, a rate that eclipses the national average of 20%. We’re far better than most, but still not as great as many.

One way that MLK50: Justice Through Journalism does journalism differently is that we challenge mediocre systems and hold policy makers accountable for being better.

Successful communities are the focus of Steimer’s latest story, specifically Louisville-Jefferson County, Kentucky and San Antonio, which have given out 100% and 92%, respectively, of the first round of federal ERA dollars. Read more here.