Houston council sets higher bar for firms seeking city subsidies

Companies seeking tax breaks from the city of Houston must give construction workers safety training, advertise jobs to ex-offenders in the city’s re-entry program, provide affordable housing if the project is a residential development, and try to hire workers from poor neighborhoods and the area around a project.

The city council passed the new guidelines 13-2 on Wednesday, with council members Mike Knox and Greg Travis opposed.

The proposed guidelines also require firms to choose one of eight community benefits from a list, several of which overlap with the ordinance’s other requirements. Those other requirements include paid internships for low-income students, site designs that aim to reduce crime by, for instance, adding extra lighting, and site improvements that benefit more than the business itself.

Progressive advocacy groups long have pushed Mayor Sylvester Turner to embrace "community benefit" reforms for the city’s business incentive programs. Advocates continued to lean on the mayor this week, hoping the guidelines also would mandate companies receiving subsidies to give higher wages, carry workers’ compensation coverage, and give independent groups access to work sites to confirm compliance with the new rules.

Still, advocates praised the vote as a “historic shift,” as Michelle Tremillo, executive director of the Texas Organizing Project, put it.

“The city of Houston today took an important step in bringing balance, fairness and equity to our economy,” she said. “We all want our economy to thrive, but not at the expense of working families who fuel that growth. We look forward to continue working with Mayor Turner to ensure that the city maximizes its return on our tax dollars in a way that benefits all Houstonians.”

Workers Defense Project Executive Director José P. Garza said he was disappointed the additional items his group had sought were not included, he said he looked forward to continued talks with city leaders “to ensure the men and women who build Houston can go home safely each night with enough money to live in the city they help build.”

Knox had offered an amendment in response to criticisms contractors had raised Tuesday about a provision that requires firms getting tax breaks to try to hire 30 percent of their construction workforce from U.S. Department of Labor-certified training programs. The contractors said federal rules are too rigid and prefer their own, similar training programs.

Knox said requiring DOL registration could “limit the city’s ability to get the best bang for the buck.”

Turner noted that he has placed only one tax abatement on the agenda in his two-and-a-half-year tenure and said the guidelines, per state law, must be renewed every two years.

“What we’re voting on today does not rule out any other apprenticeship programs in any other area,” Turner said. “This is just dealing with tax abatements.”

Councilman Michael Kubosh referenced a handful of speakers who had addressed the group this week, asking Turner whether he thought “a good bill is one nobody’s happy with.”

“I don’t think it’s perfect from different points of view, but what we’ve tried to do is strike a pretty healthy balance,” the mayor said.



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Abbott criticizes Houston’s Harvey response

Gov. Greg Abbott blasted the city of Houston for its response to Hurricane Harvey Wednesday, critiquing what he described as a lack of sound financial planning and sluggish progress repairing flooded homes.

The governor’s assessment, which he delivered in two terse letters Wednesday, was prompted by a request Mayor Sylvester Turner, Harris County Judge Ed Emmett and 55 other Gulf Coast mayors and county judges sent Abbott on Tuesday, requesting state help meeting the local match for a key federal disaster mitigation program.

FEMA’s Hazard Mitigation Grant Program is a standard aid process triggered after every federally declared disaster. In the case of Harvey, Texas will receive about $1.1 billion in mitigation funds, $500 million of which is available to local governments now. Local leaders must compete for the dollars and provide a 25 percent match to fund selected projects; FEMA covers the other 75 percent.

“The states of Florida, North Carolina, South Carolina, Oklahoma, Virginia, Georgia and Colorado have provided for local matches in situations utilizing HMGP,” the 57 Gulf Coast leaders wrote to Abbott. “We ask that the state of Texas make a similar effort in joining local jurisdictions as a partner in flood mitigation.”

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott announced Thursday that A&M Chancellor John Sharp will oversee the state’s recovery efforts in the wake of Harvey, a Category 4 hurricane that dumped record rainfall over the Houston area. (Sept. 7)

Media: Associated Press

Abbott, in his response to Turner, said he had worked to ensure local governments could use federal block grants to provide that match.

“Texas Department of Emergency Management has received zero applications from the city of Houston to access this funding, meaning there is hundreds of millions of dollars sitting on the table for your use,” Abbott added. “It is perplexing that you are seeking more funding when you have shown no ability to spend what you already have access to.”

This response confused and angered some local officials. Not only are the mitigation funds subject to a competitive application process, they said, but the hundreds of millions of dollars Abbott referenced are the exact funds they are seeking the governor’s help in matching to be able to use.

Houston’s flood czar, Steve Costello, said city staff already have submitted an initial round of paperwork on 15 hazard mitigation projects to the state, have received positive responses back on 14 of them, and now are drafting formal applications. A Texas Department of Emergency Management spokesman said Wednesday the agency has received 26 applications from 13 mostly small jurisdictions; among the applicants in the Houston region are the Harris County Flood Control District and the cities of Dayton, Pasadena and Seabrook.

Emmett added that using federal block grants for the mitigation program — something Abbott mentioned in another recent letter to county officials — would cannibalize dollars needed for home repairs and additional infrastructure projects.

“It defies logic as to why you’d take federal dollars and, instead of using them for the purpose of relief and prevention, you’d use them as your local match for other federal dollars,” Emmett said.

Emmett said he was taken aback by Abbott’s letter to Turner.

“The tone of the governor’s letter is troublesome, and I don’t think it recognizes reality. All of us are merely seeking to speed up recovery and to take the burden off local taxpayers,” Emmett said. “Why that deserves a lecture I don’t know.”

In addition, Emmett and Turner said, the governor only selectively referenced the federal notice that authorizes the use of block grants as matching funds. The same filing also stresses the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s efforts to “promote policies that require state and local financial participation to ensure their shared commitment and responsibility for long-term recovery and future disaster risk reduction” and states “HUD expects grantees to financially contribute to their recovery through the use of reserve or ‘rainy day’ funds, borrowing authority, or retargeting of existing financial resources.”

“’Rainy day fund.’ That was an interesting choice of words that HUD used,” Emmett said.

Turner, for his part, stressed that his intent in sending the letter was not to be accusatory or confrontational, and repeatedly called the governor a good partner in the recovery. He also noted that the letter mentioned the rainy day fund as only one option by which the state could assist; the fund, which is expected to end the next budget cycle with a $11.9 billion balance, has been a political lightning rod in Austin for years.

Still, Turner added, “What are we protecting it for? What’s the point? We endured the worst rainfall in the history of this country.”

Abbott expanded his critique of Houston with a second letter Wednesday afternoon that lambasted the city’s lack of progress in housing repairs.

The city initially said it had too little funding to begin work, Abbott wrote, so his office helped get up-front funding from FEMA — which the city took a month to accept, the governor said.

Abbott said his data shows Houston has housed just 15 percent of the people eligible for its direct housing programs – or 51 people – whereas the state has completed 90 percent of its work under the same initiatives. “Direct housing” includes programs that place storm victims in new apartments or in mobile homes, and a program that covers up to $60,000 in home repairs.

“The city’s insistence on running its own direct housing program has significantly delayed the delivery of needed housing to Houstonians,” Abbott wrote. “It is essential that you complete your inventory more swiftly.”

None of these figures include the PREPS program, a short-term FEMA effort that is state administered and to which the state has contributed 10 percent matching funds that local governments otherwise would have to provide, Abbott noted. That initiative, which spends up to $20,000 to make temporary and limited repairs to make flood-damaged home livable, has served about 15,000 people statewide, a little more than a third of whom are in Houston.

Houston’s housing director Tom McCasland said FEMA had deemed fewer than 500 families in Houston eligible for those programs. About 300 are particiapting in the $60,000 repair program, which McCasland’s staff is running; a few dozen chose trailers and a dozen opted for the leasing program, which few landlords have agreed to sign up for.

A handful of homes in the $60,000 program are complete and awaiting final inspection, he said; about 80 homes are under construction or about to start construction. Construction will start on half of the eligible homes within a few weeks, he said.

FEMA typically helps families with limited options get into apartments, trailers or partially repaired homes after disasters. Harvey’s unprecedented scale, however, led FEMA to ask Texas for help, which led to months of negotiations.

It was not until late September that the state land office and FEMA agreed to the broad terms of their partnership, and the agencies then had to hash out how the handful of specific programs under their partnership would function. The state General Land Office negotiated separate deals with regional government councils and the city of Houston, which were signed between Nov. 16 and Dec. 14, with Houston being the last to sign.

The governor also called it “shocking” that only $5 million of a $50 million check he presented Turner last September has been spent. Turner said Wednesday those funds were subject to a detailed agreement and would need to be repaid to the governor’s office if they are not used in several narrow categories outlined in the deal.

Chronicle reporter Mike Ward contributed to this story.



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Houston To Light City Hall Red For Rockets Fever

HOUSTON, TX — With Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals kicking off Monday in Houston, Mayor Sylvester Turner announced the City Hall lights will be illuminated in red on Sunday (May 13) and Monday to honor the Rockets. The city will soon release information about other possible dates.

The Mayor’s Office of Special Events (MOSE) works with organizations and individuals to wash City Hall in lights of a color that relates to their cause or purpose. Written requests may be submitted up to one year in advance. MOSE endeavors to accommodate as many requests as possible, and requests are handled on a first come, first served manner.

Tonight, like last night, city hall will be lit in teal at the request of the national Food Allergy Research and Education organization, in support of the annual Food Allergy Awareness Week.

The Rockets finished the regular season with the best record in the NBA, and they have home-court advantage throughout the playoffs should they keep advancing.

Here’s the Western Conference Finals best-of-7 schedule and times (all games on TNT):
Game 1 — Golden State at Houston, Monday, May 14 • 8 p.m.
Game 2 —Golden State at Houston, Wednesday, May 16 • 8 p.m.
Game 3 — Houston at Golden State, Sunday, May 20 • 7 p.m.
Game 4 — Houston at Golden State, Tuesday, May 22 • 8 p.m.
*Game 5 — Golden State at Houston, Thursday, May 24 • 8 p.m.
*Game 6 — Houston at Golden State, Saturday, May 26 • 8 p.m.
*Game 7 — Golden State at Houston, Monday, May 28 • 8 p.m.
* if necessary

Image: PJ Tucker (4) of the Houston Rockets celebrates with the crowd after making a three-point shot in the closig minutes of the fourth quarter during Game Five of the Western Conference Semifinals of the 2018 NBA Playoffs at Toyota Center on May 8, 2018 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)

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Houston mom allegedly abandoned young children in trash-filled apartment

Houston police say a 22-year-old evicted mom abandoned her two children inside the apartment.

Court documents show that Kerri Green was evicted from her east Houston apartment in March. Weeks later, on April 23, the manager of the complex went inside Green’s residence to make sure it was empty.

According to court records, the manager discovered a trash-filled apartment containing a crib with two children, a 10-month-old girl and 2-year-old boy.

The manager called police and an officer arrived on the scene. The officer said the children had no access to food or water and were wrapped in several blankets inside the hot apartment.

The officer also said the 10-month-old girl was covered in vomit and mucus and the 2-year-old boy was "not responsive" to touch or voice.

In addition, the officer said the 2-year-old was the same size as his younger sister and appeared to be malnourished and "staring into space." The officer reported that both children were "warm to the touch."

The officer waited at the apartment for a little over two hours for Green to return home, which she allegedly did not.

The two young children were taken to a local hospital and no calls to 911 concerning them were made by Green, according to police.

The officer at the apartment noted that the temperature in Houston was 80 degrees and that Green’s apartment "felt much hotter."

Green was recently arrested and charged with abandoning a child.

See what data reveals about child abuse in Houston above.

Fernando Ramirez is a reporter for Chron.com and the Houston Chronicle. You can follow him on Twitter at @fernramirez93.

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Houston Rockets Game 5 Set For Wednesday, Tickets On Sale

HOUSTON, TX — The Houston Rockets are guaranteed anther home game in the first round of the NBA playoffs, thanks to a 121-105 loss at the Minnesota Timberwolves on Saturday night. The Rockets still lead the best-of-7 series 2-1. Game 4 will be Monday night in Minnesota. It will tip at 7 p.m. Texas time and can be seen on TNT.

Game 5 on Wednesday will be back in Houston with an 8:30 p.m. start. It will also be televised on TNT. If necessary, Game 6 will be in Minnesota and Game 7 would be back in Houston.

The teams went back and forth early in the game Saturday, swapping leads multiple times before the Rockets took a 28-27 lead into the second quarter. It stayed tight through the second period and Minnesota led, 52-51, at halftime. Minnesota began pulling away in the third, leading by 12 going into the final period.

Houston kept chipping away at Minnesota’s double-digit leads in the fourth period, only to be thwarted again by the Timberwolves’ hot shooting from beyond the arc. Minnesota as a team shot nearly 56 percent from 3-point range, with Andrew Wiggins and Jimmy Butler each making four. The Rockets made 15 3-pointers on 41 attempts for 36.6 percent.

James Harden led Houston with 29 points and seven assists. Clint Capela had a team-high 11 rebounds.

Here’s ticket information for Game 5 at home Wednesday.

Top image: James Harden (13) of the Houston Rockets shoots the ball against Gorgui Dieng (5) of the Minnesota Timberwolves during the first quarter in Game Three of Round One of the 2018 NBA Playoffs on April 21, 2018 at the Target Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The Timberwolves won, 121-105. (Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)

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5 Insanely Expensive Houston-Area Homes On The Market

HOUSTON, TX — There are big, beautiful houses, and then there are ridiculously absurd houses. Some of the homes for sale are freakishly large and wickedly expensive. Here at Patch, we teamed up with our partners at realtor.com to narrow down the top five most expensive homes in Houston. Winning a local lottery would be just a down payment. Regardless, here are the most expensive homes for sale in Houston.

$30 million
100 Carnarvon100 Carnarvon Dr
Secluded 2.5 wooded acres, this Neoclassical, close-in Memorial-area chateau is a masterpiece of luxury and refinement surrounded by private, park-like grounds. The 27,000-plus square foot chateau is designed for elegant entertaining and the display of museum-quality art. Amenities include lavish gilt and delicately-wrought, hand painted detail; meticulously reproduced period moldings; white marble tile and inlaid, hand scraped hardwood floors; antique boiserie, chandeliers, and marble fireplaces. Expertly proportioned principle rooms include a gallery/reception hall, Versailles Room/salon, dining room, music room, east gallery hall, family room, sun room, and breakfast/informal dining room. The kitchen is elegant offering an island, extensive butler’s pantry, and an additional catering kitchen. The setting and architecture evoke the grandeur of Versailles and the art-filled mansions of Paris’ 16th arrondissement.

$16.5 million
6 W Rivercrest Dr
Palladian-style villa on approx. 3.7 fenced acres, custom designed and completed in 2017. Gated entry and circular drive provide parking for entertaining guests. Palatial entry with custom forged ironwork and double door entry opens to banquet-sized dining room and library. State-of-the-art kitchen features labradorite counters, Wolf and Sub-Zero appliances and is adjacent to a service kitchen, butler’s pantry and wine room. Den and formal living view acreage, pool and pavilion through expansive windows across the back of home. Master bedroom features expansive private terrace, dual baths, dressing rooms and custom couture-worthy closets, morning room and study. Two guest bedrooms on second floor have separate sitting areas off landing and master-sized attached baths. Air conditioned 4-car garage and 2 porte-cocheres. Casita or gym area on first floor with full bath. Convenient 3-bedroom guest house is elevator capable with dining room, living area, breakfast, full kitchen, game room, study, terrace and 1-car attached garage. The entertainment pavilion flows to pool area and has large island, bonus room and full bath. The resort-style pool features stepping stones leading to pergola, spa, stone columns and water curtain. Quarters above the stables are sheet rocked and plumbed. The 6-stall stable features vaulted beamed trusses and can be accessed via driveway and would make for an easy conversion for approx. 2,462 sq. ft. of car storage or an additional entertainment pavilion. Artisans have custom designed and created the stained glass windows, woodwork, cabinetry and stonework throughout the home. French oak floors in basket weave and herringbone patterns are complemented by bookend marble patterns in entry. Crestron home automation, automatic window shades, tankless water heaters and mosquito system provide convenient living. Exquisite stone selections throughout the home are unsurpassed. Approx. 6.5 miles from The Galleria.

$16.5 million

Situated behind the gates of prestigious Shadyside, this English Georgian-style home was first designed by Harrie T. Lindeberg and his protg, John Staub. Listed in the National Registry of Historic Places, it has been restored and updated throughout in a manner that complements its original grandeur and integrity. Nestled on approx. 1.7 acres in a park-like setting with magnificent live oak trees, landscaped gardens, pool, pool house and patio areas.

$15.9 million
1708 River Oaks Blvd
The Regency-Style home at 1708 River Oaks Boulevard recalls the glory of a 17th-century Parisian hotel particular. Superbly positioned on more than one acre, it is exquisitely constructed of Texas Cream limestone, cast stone and steel and offers greater than 14,000 square feet of rare opulence. A Tiffany¬ style glass domed ceiling; indoor heated pool, Las Cala marble flooring, hand-carved mahogany moldings; richly inlaid hardwood floors; crotch-cut mahogany paneling and doors; sumptuous marbles; and superbly rendered special finishes are only a few of this home’s extraordinary features. Equally impressive are electronic systems offering complete Creston Automated control of Lutron-based lighting systems, a distributed multi-zone audio system including three Sirius Satellite Tuners, All automated window shades, exterior gates, irrigation system, mosquito system, security system and multiple zones of HVAC. Anderson double-insulated windows and a commercial metal roof system.

$14.8 million
3229 Groveland Ln
Welcome to Groveland. This historically registered landmark estate exemplifies the timeless Regency design & classic proportions of celebrated architect Birdsall Briscoe. Situated on over an acre of impeccably landscaped grounds & enhanced by majestic oaks framing the regal exterior facade. Respectfully & immaculately restored by the current owner utilizing the finest materials resulting in numerous accolades & publication features. Estate boasts 3 dwellings w/ 5 gardens, including grand lawns.

All photos via realtor.com

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Houston City Council Approves Flood Plain Construction Regs

HOUSTON, TX — The Houston City Council has approved new regulations to the city’s building code will affect future projects that are built in the 500 year flood plain.

Mayor Sylvester Turner said the City Council’s approval of his flood protection reform proposals was a major step forward for protecting lives and property in any future Houston floods. He also said the vote will send a strong signal to the nation about how the city plans for its future.

"It is a positive day and a defining moment for Houston. We are being transformational, becoming a more resilient city, and that means doing business in a way we have not done before," Turner remarked.

(For more news like this, find your local Patch here. If you have an iPhone, click here to get the free Patch iPhone app; download the free Patch Android app here.)

The new regulations come nearly eight months after Hurricane Harvey caused widespread flooding to hundreds of buildings in downtown Houston, and in communities in Greater Houston.

The new regulation, which passed with a 9-7 vote, will require new construction to be built with a two foot elevation above the 500 year flood plain — land predicted to flood during a once-every-500-years storm (17-19 inches of rain in 24 hours).

Thank you to the @HoustonTx City Council for approving the flood protection reforms I proposed in January. This is a signature moment for our city; a transformative move to save lives, make Houston more resilient and preserve the factors that attract newcomers. #HurricaneHarvey— Sylvester Turner (@SylvesterTurner) April" class="redactor-linkify-object">https://twitter.com/SylvesterT… 4, 2018

The changes to the city regulations began in January when the council began examining ways to toughen the rules for construction in the floodplain after the devastation from Hurricane Harvey.

The soon-to-expire standard was set at one foot above the 100-year flood plain, land that is predicted to flood during a once-every-100-years (13-14 inches of rain in 24 hours).

Turner said the city will now shift to developing ordinance changes this year for areas outside the flood plain and construction of infrastructure and drainage projects.

Roy Wright, FEMA’s deputy associate administrator for insurance and mitigation, wrote to the mayor, "For the nation to be more resilient, many communities will take these forward-leaning steps. We will be looking to Houston to lead the nation in its resilience and capacity to shape policies that keep citizens safe through all hazards."

Turner acknowledged that some local business interests opposed today’s action with the argument that new construction will cost more.

However, Turner added that saving lives is worth the extra cost, and the reforms will assure new residents and businesses that Houston is more prepared for the next storms.

"Unless we take constructive steps to mitigate the risk of flooding, why would business owners want to make a significant investment inside the city of Houston? They at least want to see us doing things that will protect them and their investment," he said. "We are not going to put profit over the lives of people."

Image: HOUSTON, TX – SEPTEMBER 03: People look at a flooded section of US-90 on September 3, 2017 in Houston, Texas. A week after Hurricane Harvey hit Southern Texas, residents are beginning the long process of recovering from the storm. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Send your news tips to bryan.kirk@patch.com

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Speculators in Houston making a fast buck on misery – Houston Business Journal

Houston Speculators Make a Fast Buck From Storm's Misery - The New ...

Editor’s note: This story is available as a result of a content partnership with The New York Times. Subscribers will see stories like this every day on our website (and in our daily emails) as an added value to your subscription.

HOUSTON — The yard signs appeared almost immediately. Canyon Gate was still in ruins, its streets strewn with moldy furniture, the stench of rot everywhere. But somehow, someone had managed to plant dozens, maybe hundreds of them across the tiny Houston suburb. One proclaimed “Dump Your Home!” Another, stuck into the dirt, read “Flood Damage? We Can Help.” Continue reading “Speculators in Houston making a fast buck on misery – Houston Business Journal”

Houston Area Real Estate: Finding Your Next New Home

Vesta Real Estate Co. - Houston Area Real Estate

HOUSTON, TX — The Houston housing market is flush with homes in great communities, and if you are new to the area then the Houston Patch Real Estate Guide can help you narrow down your search.

If you already know which part of Houston suits you or you know where you’ve always wanted to be, and just need more space, our friends at realtor.com can help with that too. Continue reading “Houston Area Real Estate: Finding Your Next New Home”

With Rising Voter Turnout, Democrats Hope To Turn Parts Of Texas Blue

Eric Gay/APBins of signs are seen in a storage area at the Bexar County Election offices last month in San Antonio.

Updated at 8 p.m. ET

Texans were casting their votes in primaries Tuesday, the first contests of the 2018 election cycle. But voters in the Lone Star State have been voting for almost two weeks already — and there’s been a big surge in enthusiasm across the board. Continue reading “With Rising Voter Turnout, Democrats Hope To Turn Parts Of Texas Blue”