Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner pledges to bring renewed focus on homelessness, streets, police

Houston inauguration 2020
An inauguration ceremony was held Jan. 2 to swear in Houston City Council members, city controller and mayor. (Emma Whalen/Community Impact Newspaper)

An inauguration ceremony was held Jan. 2 to swear in Houston City Council members, city controller and mayor. (Emma Whalen/Community Impact Newspaper)

Amid inauguration festivities Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner delivered a speech laying out priorities for his second and final term.

Often calling on private investors to support tech industry growth, affordable housing opportunities and other initiatives, Turner also made specific promises about the city’s latest goals.

Among new initiatives is a goal to raise $50 million in private contributions by the end of 2021 for The Way Home, a public-private coalition that provides wraparound services for homeless residents. Turner said the city’s goal is to have less than 3,500 homeless residents by the end of the year and less than 3,000 by the end of 2021.

“Though Houston is a model across the country on how to address homelessness, by Houston standards, we must do more,” Turner said. “Everyone must play a part over the next two years.”

The annual point-in-time count, which tallies the city’s homeless population, will be conducted from Jan. 28 to 30 with results published in the spring. The 2019 report showed a 5% decline from 2018 and 54% decline since 2011, bringing the total down to 3,640.


In his first term, Turned said he promised to decrease Houston Public Works' response time for pothole repairs, resulting in 250,000 potholes filled and 96% of requests filled with 24-hours. For more serious repairs, he said his second-term priority is to establish a plan within 60 days through Public Works that identifies streets in need serious of rehabilitation. The plan will also include potential funding sources and timelines. He said those efforts are bolstered by partnerships with Harris County commissioners.

Within the month, Turner said the city will also begin a new streamlined permit approval process for home repairs funded by Hurricane Harvey recovery grants and release of the Houston's climate action plan.

“You should see a noticeable improvement by the end of this term,” he said.

Addressing public safety, Turner said that the city aims to hire 400 police officers in addition to the 200 hired during his first term. An independent report released in 2016, found the Houston Police Department understaffed by nearly 700 officers compared to similarly sized cities such as Los Angeles.

Turner did not mention however, the ongoing legal dispute against the Houston Professional Firefighters Association by the Houston Police Officers Union and the city.

Turner later referenced his reform of the city’s pension system which reduced its unfunded liabilities from $8 billion to $4 billion. In his end-of-year financial report released Dec. 23, re-elected City Controller Chris Brown said the city’s next goal is to focus on other post-employment benefits which include health and life insurance for current and future retired employees.

“This much is clear: without a solution in place, the City of Houston could face another financial challenge that will threaten both the health care benefits of its retirees, as well as its overall long-term financial stability,” the report read.

Among other accomplishments, Turner also noted the minimum wage increase for city and airport employees to $15 and the purchase of new waste management trucks to begin replacing the city’s outdated fleet.

Following the inauguration, Houston City Council held a special meeting with newly sworn-in members to confirm the mayor's recommendations for Mayor Pro Tem and Vice Mayor Pro Tem. District E Council Member Dave Martin replaces outgoing District C Council Member and Mayor Pro Tem Ellen Cohen and District K Council Member replaces interim District B Council Member and Vice Mayor Pro Tem Jerry Davis.
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By Emma Whalen

Emma is Community Impact Newspaper's Houston City Hall reporter. Previously, she covered health care and public education in Austin.


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