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2015 Mayoral manifesto: Quality of life and other issues

Preliminaries
Transportation
Public safety

A few quick hits on topics that didn’t fit elsewhere.

Making Houston affordable again

Remember when Houston was an inexpensive place to live? If you haven’t been here at least a decade – more like two decades, for some neighborhoods – you probably don’t. The transformation of so many parts of Houston, especially the Inner Loop, has been a big positive in many ways, but it’s come with a big price tag. Many longtime residents of many established and historic areas have been forced out, and the vast majority of housing construction today is high end. Houston’s longstanding reputation as an affordable place to live is no longer valid, and it’s having an effect. If nothing else, you have to wonder what will happen to some of these luxury apartment/condo complexes if the price of oil stays down around $50 a barrel. Mayors of course are limited in what they can do about this sort of thing, but there are some good policy ideas to encourage affordable housing development out there. I’d at least like to know that the Mayoral candidates consider this to be something worth thinking and talking about.

Historic preservation

In 2010, City Council passed a historic preservation ordinance, after a lot of work, debate, and contentiousness. Four years later, that ordinance is still a work in progress, with tweaks being made to help developers and homeowners better understand what it means and how to follow it. What sorts of “tweaks” would the Mayoral candidates like to see made to this ordinance? More broadly, and as a tangent to the point about how many established neighborhoods have been transformed by the recent real estate boom, what can – or should – be done to protect the interests of longtime residents in these neighborhoods and the houses that gave them their character in the first place? How do you balance their interests with those of developers?

One Bin For All

I trust everyone is familiar with the One Bin For All proposal. Last year, the city received numerous RFPs to build the kind of all-in-one plant that would revolutionize solid waste management and forever put to rest Houston’s abysmally low recycling rate. At this point, we don’t know where that stands, and while Mayor Parker and Sustainability Director Laura Spanjian have steadfastly advocated for this idea, they have also said that if it isn’t feasible then the city won’t pursue it. Many environmental groups – though not all – have been critical of the One Bin plan, preferring that the city do more to expand single-stream recycling. This is a big decision that Mayor Parker and City Council will eventually make. What direction do the Mayoral candidates want them to go? Who likes the One Bin idea, and who is skeptical of it? For those in the latter group, what would they do to increase recycling in Houston? If One Bin isn’t the answer, what steps can the city take beyond encouraging recycling – such as reducing the amount of food waste being sent to landfills – to do better and spend less on garbage?

State versus city

I discussed the threat of so-called “sanctuary cities” legislation in the Public Safety entry, but that is far from the only bill that seeks to limit or dictate what cities like Houston would be allowed to do by the Legislature. From payday lending to equal rights ordinances to plastic bags to who knows what else, the Lege – egged on by Governor Abbott – has declared war on local control. Are any of the Mayoral candidates – other than Rep. Sylvester Turner, who can safely be assumed to be dealing directly with these issues – even thinking about this stuff? Because if they wait until the voters are presumed to be tuning in, it will be too late. We need to be hearing from these guys now. If they don’t like some of the items on the Legislature’s to do list, they need to say so now. If they do like these things, then we need to hear them say that, too. Either way, now is not the time to be silent. If any of these bills pass, it will have a profound effect on Houston. The next Mayor of Houston might want to get out in front of that.

I could go on, but I think that will do for now. I realize this is a long campaign, and I realize the average voter is assumed to have the attention span of a gnat. I also realize that some of these candidates don’t have fully fleshed-out positions on everything yet, though let’s be honest here – most of the declared candidates – three of whom so far are repeat customers – have been running for Mayor for many years now. They’ve just made it official now that they can raise money. They’ve all got advisers and consultants and political directors and what have you out the wazoo. Let’s put some of that brainpower to the test. Anyone can be against potholes. I want to know what these guys are for, and it’s neither unfair nor too early to start asking where they stand, at least in general, on these issues. I hope you’ll join me on that, and will do the same for the issues that are important to you.

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4 Comments

  1. Katy says:

    “If One Bin isn’t the answer, what steps can the city take beyond encouraging recycling – such as reducing the amount of food waste being sent to landfills – to do better and spend less on garbage?”

    How about giving everyone a recycling bin–including apartments and businesses– and a compost bin? How about banning plastic bags and styrofoam? How about educating the public about how to recycle?

    We’ve had a “one bin” system for years in Houston– we’ve just always called it a trash can, because that’s what it is.

  2. Tim Bacon says:

    Thank you for helping generate discussion about affordable housing and affordable core city neighborhoods. My heart and my bank account are breaking as I watch my Montrose neighborhood deteriorate into a disneyland modeled same-as-everywhere-else enclave for the well-to-do, at the expense of those of us who cherish real neighborhoods and affordability. If this trend continues unabated, and I’m sure it will, pensioners like me along with the young minimum wagers and moderate income will find ourselves trying to find housing in Waller.
    How about some attention in this race regarding quality of life issues in our neighborhoods in the core city. There are options for providing good side-walks that are safe and usable that do not include killing trees. Let’s talk about that. Let’s talk beyond pot-holes about safe intersections and removing blocks to visibility at corners, let’s talk about run-away parking that significantly reduces the safety of our streets due to clusters of bar/restaurants frequented mostly by tourists from outside our neighborhoods to name a few.

  3. Jules says:

    The citing of the Downtown Living Initiative in the good policy ideas link as supporting affordable housing is laughable.

    The ordinance that all the 380’s are based on requires either: the creation of 25 new full-time jobs (40 hours per week) and retention for 5 years OR the creation of affordable or transitional housing.

    None of the 380’s do either. If there are any job creation goals, they are watered down by including part time jobs. There are no 380’s that create affordable housing.

    The Downtown Living Initiative has no real requirements other than building in a specific place within a specific time period. They could have been required to provide affordable housing for the $75M.

  4. Jules says:

    I mean seriously – let’s subsidize rich people’s housing so they will quit building in the poor people’s neighborhoods.

    I can’t get over that.