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More focus on inequality

Good to see.

As Houston’s mayoral candidates spar over the city’s largely agreed upon top issues – finances, infrastructure and public safety – a fourth policy concern is percolating: economic inequality.

Concerns about disparity underpin discussions about the city’s revenue cap, development incentives, education, even which roads to repair and when.

Yet, when it comes to policy solutions, candidates have offered few concrete proposals.

Only state Rep. Sylvester Turner has placed inequality front-and-center in his campaign, though his suggestions come with few implementation details.

“We cannot create or allow to be created two cities in one, of haves and have-nots,” Turner said in a recent interview. “You have to build a city for the middle class.”

Among the 50 largest U.S. cities, Houston ranks 15th for income inequality, with the top 5 percent of earners making 11.8 times that of the bottom 20 percent, according to a recent Brookings Institution study.

Census data also shows about 22 percent of city residents lived below the poverty level in 2014.

“We’re under this illusion in Houston that because people are working, that they’re not in poverty, which is simply not true,” said Ginny Goldman, executive director of the advocacy group Texas Organizing Project.

Nationwide, big city mayors have sought to address economic inequality with initiatives ranging from raising the local minimum wage to implementing universal pre-kindergarten.

In Texas, however, state law prevents cities from increasing their own minimum wages, leaving local governments to pursue such strategies as raising municipal workers’ salaries or creating special taxing districts for neighborhood development.

See here for some background. This is about making sure Houston stays an affordable, livable city for all of its residents. There are things a Mayor can do about that – to encourage and incentivize affordable housing, for instance. Pursuing a local pre-k program, as was done in San Antonio and as has been discussed in Harris County, is another. The problem has to be part of the discussion before any solutions can be. I’m glad to see that happening.

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