“West Side is the BEST side!”

On October 6th, the West Houston Association hosted City of Houston Councilmembers Amy Peck, District A, Tiffany Thomas, District F, and Mary Nan Huffman, District G, at our Westside City Council Forum. Led by our distinguished moderator, WHA Board Chair and MetroNational’s Director of Planning, Marlene Gafrick, our panel of councilwomen covered a wide range of topics from why they ran for city council to homelessness, city bond debt, and their vision for the future of West Houston. And while each of these members are as distinct as their districts, a key theme emerged from the outset: a commitment to improve the quality of life of their constituents.  

The panel chat started with each councilmember talking about their core values and what led them to run for public office. CM Peck began with her commitment to addressing ongoing infrastructure and public safety issues in District A, a point she returned to consistently throughout the forum. CM Thomas, who is also an assistant professor of Community Development at Prairie View A&M University, addressed what is at the heart of community development: doing the work where you live. The foundation of community development is in asking ourselves, “what we are investing in, over what period of time, and when does it begin to yield for everyone”? CM Huffman responded with what would largely become the theme of the panel: resources to fight flooding, addressing aging infrastructure, and public safety.  

Chairwoman Gafrick then led the panelists to consider the pervasive question of homelessness in West Houston. The NYT recently published an in-depth and optimistic article about how Houston is addressing its homelessness challenges. Houston leads the nation in addressing homelessness through a series of initiatives built on inter-agency collaboration and public-private partnerships. CM Peck referenced the newly launched navigation center, which CM Huffman reminded the audience has only a 32-day average wait, as opposed to the typical wait-time for housing that averages over 100 days. CM Thomas, also referencing Houston’s housing data, stated that Houston has housed the largest number of unhoused individuals in the nation, but also reminded the room that the housing market is hot! Subsidies in housing may only be a temporary stop-gap measure as the housing market continues to remain high. What will happen to those housed individuals once their lease terms expire? The City of Houston is asking those questions, and is continuing to work with other agencies and non-profits, such as The Coalition for the Homeless, to address these concerns.  

Conversation shifted gears into an area very much on the minds of west Houston residents, even at the official end of hurricane season: floodplain maps. With the anticipated publishing of the floodplain maps next year, council members were asked if they would consider supporting going back to the 100-year maps. While there was general agreement that this would be a difficult question to answer before the maps are released early next year, there was also agreement that the traditional model of putting this burden onto developers needed to be balanced with the actual needs of the residents. A problem that has traditionally been argued to be a problem of overdevelopment is in reality more likely to be one of aging infrastructure. As each councilmember noted, their respective districts have different issues that need to be addressed, and these are perhaps best addressed by the City of Houston or Harris County, or in partnership with developers rather than placing the onus entirely on developers. Funding, always a pressing issue in infrastructure discussions, was the perfect lead into our last question about the upcoming City of Houston Bond Election 

While our councilmembers were mixed on their support for the bond, there was a consensus that West Houston could receive more attention and funding from the City of Houston in addressing its needs, chief amongst them: aging infrastructure, flooding and drainage issues (which are prevalent in all West Houston districts), parks, connectivity and sidewalks, and public safety. As CM Thomas said, “the West Side is the Best Side!” Thanks to the efforts of councilmembers representing the western parts of Houston, the area has received more attention in recent years. However, the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funding is set to expire soon, and the west side is often overlooked for projects in favor of the perception that the east side is more flood prone and needs funding more than West Houston. Audience member and EHRA team member, Joe Jefferson, asked what citizens and WHA members can do to help our local communities on the west side. CM Thomas noted that industry stakeholders are key partners for councilmembers because of their expertise and finger on the pulse of what the real issues are in West Houston. She wrapped up the forum by bringing her priorities full circle and asking, “when is what we are doing benefitting everyone”? West Houston must be a part of those funding formulas. 

As always, WHA could not put together these opportunities for meaningful dialogue with our elected and public officials without the support of our sponsors. Thank you to ABHR, BGE, Howard Hughes, Inframark, Johnson Development Corp., LJA, R.G. Miller | DCCM, Walter P. Moore, Brookfield Properties, Caldwell Companies, Costello, EHRA Engineering, HCC Northwest, Quiddity Engineering, Masterson Advisors, META Planning + Design, MetroNational, Parkside Capital, Schwartz, Page & Harding, Twinwood, Texas Children’s Hospital, and Vogler & Spencer Engineering!