Recovery centers to provide federal aid for repair of homes damaged by Harvey

January 16th, 2019

The City of Houston has taken a critical step forward with the opening of four Housing Resource Centers, one in each quadrant of the city, to use $1.17 billion in federal aid to assist Houstonians whose homes were damaged by Hurricane Harvey.

Anyone who may be eligible must first complete a survey:

  • Online at https://recovery.houstontx.gov
  • By phone at 832-393-0550 (Monday – Friday, 9 a.m. – 5 p.m.)
  • Or in person at any of the new centers (Northeast, 9551 N. Wayside, Houston 77028; Northwest, 13101 Northwest Freeway [Hwy. 290], Suite 101, Houston 77040; Southwest, 6464 Savoy Drive, Suite 110, Houston 77036; Southeast, 11550 Fuqua St., 3rd floor, Houston 77036)

Mobile outreach teams are also available to serve home-bound residents and others.

Please see the info flyer.

Mayor Sylvester Turner opened the Northeast center on Monday, encouraging community members to be ambassadors for the recovery effort to ensure that no eligible homeowner is left out.

The mayor told people in the packed room, “Our goal is to reach and serve as many of the affected homeowners as possible, especially those who are hardest to reach – our disadvantaged, senior citizens, those with limited English proficiency and those with special needs. We will not leave anyone behind.”

On the importance of taking the Harvey Recovery Survey, the mayor continued, “No one wants another delay in the process. The survey will help us understand each homeowner’s situation better and determine which program they may be eligible for.”

Tom McCasland, director of the City Housing and Community Development Department, emphasized that the city has moved quickly to ensure recovery was launched as soon as federal funds became available. McCasland said, “The contract for the money was signed on the 4 th , today is the 14 th – it’s 10 days later and we’re rolling out programs.”

The city will receive the $1.17 billion for housing recovery through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and the State of Texas General Land Office.

The recovery funds include the Homeowner Assistance Program, which offers five program options including: 1) reimbursement for completed repairs, 2) homeowner-managed rehabilitation, 3) city-managed rehabilitation and reconstruction, 4) buyouts, and 5) interim mortgage assistance.

While priority will be given to low- and moderate-income homeowners, assistance is available to homeowners of all income levels.

To schedule a mobile outreach team, or for any additional information, please visit https://recovery.houstontx.gov or call the Harvey recovery hotline number 832-393-0550, Monday – Friday, 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. Housing Resource Centers hours of operation are:

  • Mondays – Tuesdays, 9 a.m. – 6 p.m.
  • Wednesdays – Thursdays, 10 a.m. – 8 p.m.
  • Fridays, 9 a.m. – 6 p.m.
  • Saturdays, 9 a.m. – 3 p.m.

Talks point to local control of U.S. long-term recovery aid

March 22nd, 2018

After a recent meeting among representatives of the City of Houston, Harris County and the Texas General Land Office in Washington, D.C., Mayor Sylvester Turner and Harris County Judge Ed Emmett announced that local governments and the state agency have established a framework for moving forward on distribution of long-term recovery funds for Hurricane Harvey.

“I had asked for fairness in how the City of Houston would be treated – that the City be properly consulted by the General Land Office, per the requirements for these funds set forth by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development,” Mayor Turner said. “This meeting marks the beginning of that consultation. We are now on the right path to a fair distribution of much-needed disaster relief dollars.”

“I’d like to thank Land Commissioner George P. Bush for his collaborative efforts, as well as our partners at Harris County,” Mayor Turner continued. “Working together, we can put these funds to work for the kinds of long-term investments in housing and community development that will make our city stronger for the future.”

“It’s crucial that local governments have significant input into how these funds are distributed,” said Judge Emmett. “As the first line of response to those devastated by Hurricane Harvey, we are most familiar with what is needed and where. I genuinely thank our state and federal officials for recognizing our need for flexibility.”

HUD convened the meeting, which included representatives from Gov. Greg Abbott’s office. Abbott had selected the Texas General Land Office to distribute $5 billion in Community Development Block Grant funds appropriated to the State by Congress for Harvey relief last year. This is the second round of long-term recovery funding for Hurricane Harvey and is primarily intended to meet housing needs. Congress appropriated additional funds in January for infrastructure and mitigation.

The meeting was convened to begin consultations among the City, County, and State about how funds will be distributed and used. The framework gives Houston and Harris County local control over their recoveries and uses HUD’s unmet housing needs data as a basis for distributing funds.

The GLO will use the framework to draft an action plan, which is required by HUD before the agency will distribute funds to the state.  The public can comment on the draft action plan for 14 days before it is submitted to HUD for approval.

“This is a good first step, and the City of Houston plans to remain heavily involved in the process until we cross the finish line with HUD approval of the GLO’s action plan,” Mayor Turner said. “The sooner we have funds in our hands, the sooner we can implement a world-class community engagement plan and put these dollars to work for recovery.”

Armed with a clearer picture of how the funds will be distributed, the city immediately  will begin consulting with communities in Houston about how to use these resources to build a more resilient and equitable city.

Deadline extended for public input on changes to Chapter 19

February 20th, 2018

Houston City Council Member Dave Martin said he appreciates the comments received by many District E residents, and is happy to announce that Mayor Sylvester Turner has changed the deadline for public input on changes to City of Houston Chapter 19 to Monday, March 5 at 5 p.m.

After the proposed changes were presented to Council during a Joint Transportation, Technology, and Infrastructure/Regulation and Neighborhood Affairs Committee Meeting Feb. 12, Council Member Martin provided strong feedback to Mayor Turner, demanding residents be given more time to participate in the process.

APPROACH

The City of Houston hopes to reduce the risk of flood loss for future development and redevelopment by ordinance revisions, new regulations, building codes and design guidelines. Existing development will be improved through Capital Improvement Projects, buyouts, home elevations and demo-rebuilds. Buyouts will be determined based on repetitive flooding and are only considered when residents volunteer to participate in the program. Additionally, home elevations utilizing pier and beam methods are being researched by Houston Public Works. 

RECOMMENDATIONS

Houston’s current code only applies to property in the 100-year floodplain and protects 1 foot above 100-year flood elevation. The proposed revisions would include property in the 500-year floodplain and protect “X” feet of 500-year flood elevation. It would also include no net fill in the 500-year floodplain. 

“X” feet in the proposed revisions is still to be determined following the public input period. It is believed that the City is looking at changing the ordinance to 2 feet above the 500-year floodplain, but the City would like input on if that is too much or too little.

The 100-year floodplain is land that is predicted to flood during a 100-year storm, which has a 1% chance of occurring in any given year. The 500-year floodplain has a .2% chance of occurring. For residents outside of the 100-year and 500-year floodplain, these changes to the ordinance will have little or no affect.

PUBLIC INPUT AND NEXT STEPS

Public input on proposed changes to Chapter 19 can be made:
·        Through this survey (new deadline: Monday, March 5 at 5 p.m.)
·        By emailing the Houston Public Works Department at pwe.director@houstontx.gov, or
The ordinance will be presented to Council on March 21, 2018.
For more information, please contact the District E office at 832-393-3008 or via email at districte@houstontx.gov

Houston Solid Waste Management Department crews return to regular tree/junk schedule Thursday, March 1

February 15th, 2018

The Solid Waste Management Department will temporarily suspend city crews collecting Hurricane Harvey storm debris effective Feb. 28, 2018.  Contracted storm debris crews will remain in place until further notice.  City Junk Waste/Tree Waste crews will resume the regularly scheduled Tree Waste and Junk Waste collections effective March 1, 2018.

Mayor Sylvester Turner said, “Houstonians should be very thankful and proud of the hard work of their Solid Waste Management employees who worked tirelessly to relieve them of the debris burden and immediate stress created by the ravages of Hurricane Harvey.  City debris crews were on the ground immediately after the floodwaters receded and homeowners began their road to recovery.”

Solid Waste Director Harry Hayes was also very thankful and proud of the work of the department’s employees and noted that “Houston’s solid waste team is extremely dedicated to serving its community especially in their time of extreme need.  Many solid waste employees suffered Harvey damage, but were on the job from day one ensuring that the community quickly recovered.”

Thursday, March 1, 2018:  Regular Tree Waste Schedule

Monday, April 2, 2018:  Regular Junk Waste Schedule

Remember odd months are Tree Waste and even months are Junk Waste.

Tree Waste months:  January, March, May, July, September, and November.

Junk Waste months:  February, April, June, August, October and December.

Harvey Storm Debris is still being collected, continue to place debris at the curb. Report uncollected storm debris to the City of Houston 3-1-1 service line. 

For more information about SWMD and our services, visit www.houstonsolidwaste.org

BAHEP to honor Mayor Sylvester Turner with Silver Anniversary Quasar Award

January 1st, 2018

By Kathryn Paradis

Bay Area Houston Economic Partnership will honor Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner with its esteemed Quasar Award on the Silver Anniversary of this prestigious event, which will be held on Jan. 26 at the South Shore Harbour Resort in League City.

The Quasar Award recognizes an outstanding elected official or business leader who, through his or her actions and leadership, has demonstrated a strong and continual effort to support the business foundations of the greater Bay Area Houston communities.

The recipient’s actions must have gone above and beyond to promote the economic development of the region and the fulfillment of the Bay Area Houston Economic Partnership’s objectives to recruit, retain and expand primary jobs in the region. The award is presented during the organization’s formal Quasar Award banquet, which annually brings together nearly 700 individuals who celebrate and congratulate the honoree.

“Significantly, Mayor Turner has stepped forth to champion the coastal spine system to protect the region from hurricane storm surge,” BAHEP President Bob Mitchell said in announcing the award. “Additionally, his work to ensure a fiscally sound City of Houston will be a lasting testament to his outstanding leadership for decades to come.  Mayor Turner’s foresight has contributed immeasurably to the economic strength of Bay Area Houston.”

Houston City Councilman Dave Martin, whose district includes Bay Area Houston, said, “Mayor Sylvester Turner has been and continues to be a strong proponent for Bay Area Houston. Spearheading the city’s efforts to implement pension reform, addressing our mobility and infrastructure initiatives, and fostering a strong economic development agenda for the Bay Area region, are the cornerstones of Mayor Turner’s first two years in office.

“With the mayor’s strong endorsement of the coastal spine system, our Bay Area homes and business will be protected from future hurricane surge,” he added.

Elected in December 2015, Mayor Turner is serving his first four-year term as Houston’s 62nd mayor. Since taking office, he eliminated a $160 million budget shortfall in record time, led the city’s remarkable rebound from Hurricane Harvey, expanded municipal investments in renewable energy, and led the winning bid to host the World Petroleum Congress in 2020.

As the head of the energy capital of the world and the most diverse city in the nation, Mayor Turner has brought a performance-driven approach to the job, creating more responsive, streamlined and efficient delivery of city services while shoring up Houston’s financial future.

One of the mayor’s signature initiatives is Complete Communities, which aims to improve the quality of life for residents in all neighborhoods. The mayor’s other priorities include filling more than 90,000 potholes on city streets, implementing a six-point holistic plan for addressing homelessness, reducing flooding, and improving drainage.

Mayor Turner’s civic leadership has been nationally recognized through his service as a member of the U.S. Conference of Mayors Transportation and Communications Standing Committee, vice chairman of the National Climate Action Agenda, member of the C40 and Global Covenant for Mayor’s for Climate and Energy, and an advisory board member of the African American Mayors Association.

Prior to his election as mayor, Mayor Turner served for 27 years in the Texas House as the representative for District 139.  He worked on the House Appropriations Committee for 21 years and served as Speaker Pro Tem for three terms.  He was appointed to several Budget Conference committees to help balance the state’s budget and served on the Legislative Budget Board.

Mayor Turner is a life-long resident of Houston and lives in the Acres Homes community where he grew up with eight siblings.  He is a graduate of the University of Houston and earned a law degree from Harvard University. He began his law practice at Fulbright & Jaworski L.L.P. and later founded the Barnes & Turner Law Firm.

Previous recipients of the Quasar Award are:
1994   Texas Gov. Ann Richards
1995   U. S. Rep. Tom DeLay
1996   U. S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison
1997   U. S. Rep. Nick Lampson
1998   JSC Director George W. S. Abbey
1999   Harris County Judge Robert Eckels and Galveston County Judge Jim Yarbrough
2000   Robert L. Moody Sr.
2001   Houston Mayor Lee P. Brown
2002   Harris County Commissioner Jim Fonteno
2003   U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay
2004   Harris County Commissioner Sylvia R. Garcia
2005   President of UTMB-Galveston Dr. John Stobo
2006   Houston Mayor Bill White
2007   NASA Administrator Dr. Michael Griffin
2008   UHCL President Dr. William A. Staples
2009   Johnson Space Center Director Michael L. Coats
2010   Texas State Rep. Craig Eiland
2011   U. S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison
2012   U. S. Sen. John Cornyn
2013   Griffin Partners, Inc. owner and Chairman Fred Griffin
2014   Dr. Renu Khator, Chancellor, University of Houston System, President, University of Houston
2015   Dr. Bill Merrell, George P. Mitchell ‘40 Chair in Marine Sciences, Texas A&M University at Galveston
2016    Dr. Greg Smith, Superintendent, Clear Creek Independent School District
2017    Texas State Sen. Larry Taylor

First-of-its-kind agreement brings millions in flood relief for Houstonians

January 24th, 2017

With last week’s flooding still fresh in the minds of Houstonians, Mayor Sylvester Turner announced that the City of Houston is stepping in to provide the funds needed to help expedite long-awaited flood relief projects along Brays, Hunting and White Oak Bayous.

The move, which relies on unprecedented cooperation by numerous governmental agencies, will end the delays that have prevented the Harris County Flood Control District from proceeding with planned improvements in these watersheds.

Because it has already received federal approval, Project Brays is the first in line for the improvements.  The White Oak and Hunting Bayou projects will follow, pending Congressional authorization. Upon receipt of that authorization, the City and Flood Control District will pursue separate agreements similar to the Brays Bayou project.  The total estimated cost of all three projects is $130 million. In a separate and unrelated move, the City is also studying potential improvements to Keegans Bayou, a Brays Bayou tributary, which exceeded its banks during last week’s heavy rain.  The analysis will look at options for creating additional detention and improving channel flow.

“These projects will greatly reduce the flood threat for residents along these bayous and remove hundreds of properties out of the 100 year flood plain.  I want to thank the multiple governmental entities that have come to the table to make this happen.  The level of cooperation is unprecedented and a sign of just how committed everyone is to solving our flooding issues,” said Mayor Turner.

“While flooding will always be a part of life in southeast Texas, common sense demands that all levels of government work together as closely as possible in an effort to control it as much as we can,” said Harris County Judge Ed Emmett. “This project is another example of cooperation and coordination that directly benefits residents throughout the area.”

On Wednesday, Jan. 25, City Council will consider a loan application to the Texas Water Development Board for the Brays Bayou improvements. Upon approval of the loan by the state, the city will in turn advance $43 million to the flood control district to help pay for bridge replacements and extensions and channel widening in the Brays watershed.  The $43 million is equivalent to the amount the flood control district expects to receive from the federal government once the projects are completed.  The city will be paid back as projects are completed and the flood control district is reimbursed by the federal government.

The announcement comes just two weeks after Mayor Turner unveiled a Storm Water Action Team, or SWAT, to reduce drainage problems that are not directly attributed to overflow from the bayous that are under the control of the Harris County Flood Control District.

Approximately 100 deferred maintenance projects spread throughout the city have been initially identified for inclusion in the SWAT program.  An initial round of funding of $10 million has been approved so that work can begin on 22 of these projects, two in each City Council district.  The work encompasses everything from replacing sewer inlets and grates to regrading ditches and resizing culverts to minor erosion repairs and regular mowing.

Quotes from Governmental Partners

Congressman John Culberson
“I’m pleased to see local officials working together to improve Houston’s flood infrastructure. Houstonians have experienced two major flood events in the last two years, and this collaborative plan gives hope to residents that completion of major flood mitigation projects will minimize future damage. I look forward to continuing to work with State and local officials to develop creative solutions for Houston’s flooding problem.”

Congressman Al Green
“I would like to thank Mayor Sylvester Turner, the Houston City Council, the Harris County Flood Control District, and the Texas Water Development Board (TWDB) for their important work on this agreement to advance the completion of Project Brays,” Congressman Al Green said. “In addition to local efforts, securing the necessary federal funding for these flood control projects is a major priority of mine as well as many of my colleagues in Congress. I will continue working with my colleagues to pass H.R. 121, the Emergency Flood Control Supplemental Funding Act of 2017, formerly known as H.R. 5025 during the 114th Congress, which attracted over 100 bipartisan co-sponsors last year. H.R. 121 would deliver hundreds of millions of dollars to fully fund our flood control construction projects such that their completion can be expedited.”

Congressman Gene Green
“I applaud the important step taken by City officials to address Houston’s recurring flood problem. The completion of Brays Bayou and others like it are examples of proactive solutions that reduce the risk of flooding and make increased safety the norm.

“At the federal level, we have an obligation to do all that we can to match local efforts and reduce delays on reimbursements. To that end, I was pleased late last year with the passage of S. 612, the Water Infrastructure Improvements for the Nation Act (WIIN).  The legislation prioritizes federal reimbursement and cost-sharing on flood mitigation projects like Brays and our entire bayou system. In the 114th Congress we introduced H.R. 5025, which would increase access to federal funds for flood control projects and deliver $311 million for the completion of our local bayou projects. The bill achieved more than 100 co-sponsors and we are working to reintroduce the bill in the new Congress.

State Sen. Borris Miles
“I applaud Mayor Turner and the Houston City Council for approving this $46 million dollar zero interest loan from the Texas Water Development Board. I am encouraged that changes in the process will enable this funding to reach our community faster and will expedite the completion of Project Brays to give the surrounding neighborhoods the relief they so desperately need. I look forward to working with the City of Houston in the Texas Legislature to fund future flood control initiatives.”

State Rep. Gene Wu
“While we can’t eliminate flooding altogether, we can work to limit it and its damaging effects.”

JPMorgan Chase commits $1 million to Fight Homelessness in Houston

October 20th, 2016

thinkstockphotos-187016522City nears goal of $14.5 million to end chronic homelessness

Mayor Sylvester Turner has announced a $1 million grant from JPMorgan Chase to support Houston’s ambitious efforts to end chronic homelessness through The Way Home – the Houston region’s nationally recognized homeless housing initiative.

The award makes JPMorgan Chase the first corporate donor to support The Way Home’s development of permanent supportive housing for homeless Houstonians.

The Way Home has now raised $7 million towards its $15 million goal to finish creating 2,500 units of housing for chronically homeless individuals.  These vulnerable individuals have all been homeless for a year or more and suffer from a disabling condition.

“JPMorgan Chase’s support is more than just a grant, and it’s more than just about getting the homeless off our streets. It’s an investment in solving homelessness and changing the lives of homeless Houstonians,” Mayor Turner said.

“The Houston region is on track to end chronic homelessness, but we need the community’s support to cross the finish line.  Therefore, I challenge other corporations, large and small, across our city, state and nation to follow JPMorgan Chase’s lead and invest in The Way Home to help Houston become the first city in the nation to effectively end chronic homelessness.”

Ending chronic, veteran and family homelessness is a top priority for Mayor Turner and the City of Houston, as well as the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, Department of Labor and Veteran’s Administration.

More than 100 local governmental, business, faith, nonprofit, and charitable organizations are working together under The Way Home umbrella to build and manage a single system focused on a “Housing First” model to solve homelessness.  Since 2011, more than 3,325 chronically homeless individuals and over 4,920 homeless veterans have been permanently housed, helping reduce overall homelessness by 57 percent and essentially ending veteran homelessness in the region.

“The Way Home is an example of Houston at its best: leaders of nonprofits, the city, county and other stakeholders coming together to tackle the challenge of homelessness,” said Carolyn Watson, head of philanthropy for JPMorgan Chase in Houston.

“We are committed to assisting those who fall into homelessness so that they have a path back to safe, affordable housing as quickly and compassionately as possible. We are honored to participate in this partnership, which will create quality, affordable housing for Houstonians in need.

The $1 million grant will be invested in The Way Home’s Permanent Supportive Housing Capital Grant Fund, managed by the nonprofit Corporation for Supportive Housing (CSH).  In 2013, CSH began a partnership with the City of Houston to meet the housing and services needs of people struggling with homelessness.  As part of this community-driven process, the city and local stakeholders also prioritized the creation of affordable housing to prevent future homelessness.

“CSH has national expertise ensuring dollars are spent wisely to create quality affordable housing that ends the cycle of homelessness,” CSH President and CEO Deborah De Santis said.  “What is so striking is how the community, through the city government and partners involved in The Way Home, and now with this generous commitment from JPMorgan Chase, is working together, setting an example for the rest of the country by not just talking about ending homelessness but actually doing it.”

Houston to host gathering of space explorers on lunar landing’s 50th anniversary

September 1st, 2016

Space Center Houston Executive Director William Harris, right, welcomes, from left, Johnson Space Center Director Dr. Ellen Ochoa, Dr. Bonnie Dunbar and Space Explorers President Michael Lopez-Alegria to the reception.

Space Center Houston Executive Director William Harris, right, welcomes, from left, Johnson Space Center Director Dr. Ellen Ochoa, Dr. Bonnie Dunbar and Space Explorers President Michael Lopez-Alegria to the reception.

By Mary Alys Cherry

The Association of Space Explorers has chosen the City of Houston to host the largest international gathering of space explorers in the world, honoring the 50th anniversary of the first lunar landing.

During the prestigious October 2019 event, the 32nd Association of Space Explorers Planetary Congress will feature a week-long series of events engaging local educators, students and leaders in business, science and research in discussions on issues of broad interest to the international space community, government agencies around the world, and the public, Mayor Sylvester Turner announced at a press conference at city hall.

Later, several astronauts celebrated at a reception at Space Center Houston – Michael Lopez-Alegria, who is president of the Association of Space Explorers; Dr. Ellen Ochoa, now director of the Johnson Space Center; Michael Foreman, vice president of Venturi Outcomes in Houston; retired Lockheed Martin Vice President Rick Hieb; and Dr. Bonnie Dunbar, who will oversee the 2019 event. Dr. Dunbar is a Distinguished Research Professor in Aerospace Engineering at Texas A&M in College Station.

Recently retired Lockheed Martin Vice President Rick Hieb, left, catches up on the news with Bay Area Houston Economic Partnership President Bob Mitchell.

Recently retired Lockheed Martin Vice President Rick Hieb, left, catches up on the news with Bay Area Houston Economic Partnership President Bob Mitchell.

Space Center Houston President William Harris joined Lopez-Alegria in welcoming the crowd and announcing that ASE’s week-long event will also celebrate the 50th anniversary of the first manned landing on the moon, as well as to help inspire students in the future of space exploration.

Since its founding in 1985, the ASE, the only professional association for astronauts and cosmonauts in the world, has held its Planetary Congress in the U.S. only three times.

“Houston is the world’s ‘Space City,’ and the perfect selection for this prestigious Congress,” said Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner. “It all started in Houston with President Kennedy’s ‘Man on the Moon’ speech in 1962. And, seven years later, the first word uttered from the surface of the Moon was ‘Houston.’ As home to NASA’s Mission Control and the astronaut corps, Houston has been at the epicenter of every manned space exploration mission for more than five decades.

“To be selected to host this event, in the same year we celebrate the golden anniversary of Apollo 11, is remarkable. What an honor it will be to welcome these space explorers from around the globe in the city where it all began.”

Brian Freedman with Boeing, left, talks with Larry Strader of Jacobs Engineering during reception at Space Center Houston.

Brian Freedman with Boeing, left, talks with Larry Strader of Jacobs Engineering during reception at Space Center Houston.

ASE’s XXXII Planetary Congress provides a forum for professional dialogue among its exclusive membership while sharing their personal experiences and perspectives with the public, including businesses, academic, science and research leaders, as well as students from across the state.

Attendees will exchange information about their national space programs, make technical presentations on selected topics relevant to human space flight (i.e., research, mission development, operations, astronaut training, etc.) and recognize the accomplishments and contributions of local academic and community leaders.

The opening and closing ceremonies will take place at Space Center Houston, with five technical sessions planned at the NASA’s Johnson Space Center, the Baker Institute of Public Policy at Rice University, the University of Houston-Clear Lake, the University of Houston Central Campus, and the Lunar Planetary Institute. All technical sessions are open and will be live streamed.

 

Mayor Turner’s first budget receives unanimous vote in record time

May 26th, 2016

4-1XMayorXSylvesterXTurnerBy unanimous vote and in record time, Houston City Council approved Mayor Sylvester Turner’s first city budget.  In stark contrast to budget discussions of years past that lasted into the wee hours of the next morning, the vote came just before noon May 25 and nearly a month ahead of the normal schedule and with District E Councilman Dave Martin voting in support for the first time since being sworn in on council.

The budget, which totals $2.3 billion and balances a $160 million budget deficit, is an estimated $82 million less than the previous fiscal year and is thought to be structurally sound, fiscally conservative and balanced with recurring and nonrecurring revenues. In addition, the Fund Balance will be maintained at 9.2 percent, up from 7.5 percent, as required by the financial policy adopted by City Council.

“Passage of this budget sends a strong message to the credit rating agencies about the importance we are placing on city finances,” said Mayor Turner.  “This was accomplished not by putting hundreds of hard-working city employees in the unemployment line or by cutting critical services that Houstonians rely on and deserve. Instead, it was done via shared sacrifice and laser fine attention to fiscal management.”

Cost increases, voter imposed revenue limitations, a broken appraisal system and the economic downturn combined to create a $160 million budget shortfall, the worst fiscal challenge the city has faced since before The Great Recession, when hundreds of city workers had to be laid off.

The mayor’s budget eliminates the shortfall, maintains the city’s healthy savings account and cuts overall spending by $82 million, when compared to the current budget year. Library and park services were maintained and there were no layoffs of police and fire fighters. There is also funding for an additional police cadet class, for a total of five classes, the most in recent memory. For the first time in years, the number of police officers at HPD is starting to inch up.

After much discussion by City Council members and input received by Houstonians, Mayor Turner announced that the budget also maintains the city’s commitment to the trash sponsorship program that would have affected nearly 21,000 homeowners in District E if eliminated. Additionally, the Council District Service Fund, which was originally proposed to be cut by nearly 75 percent, was maintained and will be funded at $750,000 in Fiscal Year 2017, Martin said afterwards.

Martin has been vocal in keeping these funds in place as District E has historically been underfunded in the city’s Capital Improvement Plan, and over the past two years he has been able to use these funds to better improve the infrastructure and quality of life in the council district.

Councilman Martin expressed thanks to Mayor Turner for his leadership in the past five months of his first term in office and for proposing an operating budget that will prepare the city for additional upcoming financial challenges including unfunded pension obligations. As chairman of the Budget and Fiscal Affairs Subcommittee on Debt Financing and Pensions, Martin said he looks forward to working with the administration and his colleagues in preparing an agreement to be presented to the State Legislature this October.

Next month, Mayor Turner will release his proposed Fiscal Years 2017-2021 Capital Improvement Plan. Councilman Martin has already been active in discussing needs for District E and said he looks forward to continuing discussions related to mobility needs in both Kingwood and Clear Lake.

“Each city department, the employee unions, City Council, the Tax Increment Reinvestment Zones and various other parties worked together to identify cost savings and efficiencies while also minimizing employee layoffs and maintaining the critical services our residents rely on and deserve,” Turner said. I want to thank everyone for coming to the table to work together.”

Early in the budget process, Mayor Turner asked City Council not to tinker with his budget proposal, warning that even one small change could upset the delicate balance achieved as a result of shared sacrifice and put the city at risk for a credit rating downgrade. In the spirit of working together, council heeded his request, submitting very few amendments, none of which had a budgetary impact. This also contrasts with previous years when there have been dozens of amendments put on the table.

The budget adopted is for the fiscal year that begins July 1, 2016.

Mayor Turner Delivers First State of the City

May 5th, 2016

4-1XMayorXSylvesterXTurnerNames flood czar, calls for Rev Cap repeal and pension reform

Flooding, pensions, city finances and public safety were front and center as Mayor Sylvester Turner delivered his first State of the City before the Greater Houston Partnership.

In a major move designed to produce tangible results and instill confidence among residents, the mayor announced the selection of Stephen Costello to fill the new position of chief resilience officer, or flood czar.

Costello, a civil engineer who has worked on numerous drainage projects, will report directly to the mayor and will have the sole responsibility of developing and implementing strategies that will improve drainage and reduce the risk of flooding.

“The April 18 floods had a dramatic impact on our entire region,” Mayor Turner said. “Hundreds of people sought rescue in hastily opened shelters, hundreds more elected to stay in their flooded apartments and homes. Nearly 2,000 homes in Houston flooded and some flooded for the second, third or fourth times. Property owners throughout our area have become weary of flooding in the Bayou City, impatient with elected officials who offer explanations with no practical solutions, and some have and others are close to packing up and leaving our city unless we can convince them that we are going to do exponentially more than what they currently see.”

The mayor also announced that he will soon unveil a plan to put 175 more police officers on the street, called for repeal of the revenue cap self-imposed on the city by voters in 2004 and detailed his plan to address the city’s unfunded employee pension liabilities, a growing obligation that is stressing the city’s overall financial stability.

“There are certain realities that cannot be ignored:  the increasing costs to the city simply cannot be sustained,” Turner said.  “As we look to 2018, city services will be adversely affected, hundreds of employees will be laid off, and our credit rating will most likely be damaged. But this is a course we need not travel.  My mom said, ‘Tomorrow will be better than today,’ and as mayor of this city, I still believe what she said.”

The mayor is already in productive discussions with the employee pension groups about reigning in costs in a way that is least burdensome to employees, reduces the city’s escalating costs and avoids unintended consequences.  He has laid out three objectives for those discussions:

  1. Lower unfunded pension obligations now and in the future;
  2. Lower annual costs for the city now and in the future; and
  3. An agreement by the end of the year to present to the legislature for consideration in the 2017 session.

The mayor noted that the revenue cap, which was cited as one of the reasons for a downgrade of the city’s credit rating, puts Houston at an unfair advantage and hinders the city’s ability to meet the needs of its growing population. No other governmental entity in Texas is under similar constraints.

“The revenue cap works against creating one Houston with opportunity for all and the ability to address pressing needs like flooding, transportation and mobility, parks and added green space, affordable/workforce housing and  homelessness,” Turner said.

“We are competing not just against Dallas, San Antonio and Austin; not just against New York, Los Angeles or Chicago, but against Vancouver, Berlin and Singapore. We are an international city speaking 142 languages, with 92 consulates and two international airports within our city boundaries.”

The mayor concluded his speech with a commitment to leading the nation in addressing homelessness and a personal appeal for Houston businesses to join his Hire Houston Youth summer jobs program. Information on the program is available at www.hirehoustonyouth.org