Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Budgets and Magnets - My Letter to HISD Board Member Mike Lunceford

Dear Mr. Lunceford:

In my capacity as Braeburn Super Neighborhood President, I attended both the Budget Conversation and the Magnet Discussion at Bellaire High School. I will, of course, write to my State Legislator and Senator to ask them not to cut school funding. But frankly I have much more faith in HISD than I do in anyone up in Austin. That’s why I’m writing to you first.

Allow me to reiterate what I said at the Magnet Discussion. School budgets are not a zero-sum game. Investment in schools pays off in increased property values around those schools. Increased property values mean more tax revenue for those schools. It might be tempting to slash budgets now. We may have no choice. But if it’s done in such a way that kills schools, it will actually mean less revenue in the long run.

According to the Budget Conversation, magnet funding is only 1% of HISD’s budget. Slashing magnets won’t solve HISD’s budget problems; and could in fact cost more money in the long run. It would be smarter to redouble cuts elsewhere in the budget, and increase funding to the magnets instead of cutting it.

Where should HISD cut? How could HISD raise more money? Maybe HISD could after alumni and parent donations, like private schools do. (There is a vast, untapped pool of HISD grads, parents, and concerned Houstonians who can help.) There are surely other, better ideas. Now is the time for creativity, and doing more with less. Our President summed it up best in his State of the Union Address: “we need to out-innovate, out-educate and out-build the rest of the world.”

Thank you for your consideration, and I am very happy that you were at the Magnet Discussion at Bellaire High School.

Kindest regards,

The Civic Architect

Sunday, January 23, 2011

“Housing First” Goes to Los Angeles

A few months ago I wrote about the benefits of the “Housing First” concept for providing homeless services. The idea is that housing should be the first step in turning lives around. A stable apartment becomes an anchor that allows the homeless to treat addiction or mental illness, gain skills, and eventually find jobs. Now the method is being used in Los Angeles . The LA program is just for Veterans, but it’s a good place to start. And the numbers show that it’s working, despite critics.

As I pointed out in my original post, the “Housing First” model is not only a better way to provide services to the homeless; it could be hugely beneficial for neighborhoods. Rather than taking the homeless in for a few hours and then releasing them back onto the streets; “Housing First” will provide them with long-term homes along with intensive treatment and counseling. Neighbors can expect fewer problems related to the homeless.

Houston’s charities haven’t quite gotten to this level yet. Christian rapper Tre9 (whose real name is Bobby Herring) runs the Feed A Friend ministries in downtown Houston. The effort is all about food and outreach. They don’t do housing. The Beacon provides similar services on a larger scale – but they also do not provide housing. The Housing Corporation of Houston has the right idea about housing, but they don’t provide the breadth of services that the others do. (They also generally build in poor neighborhoods, and they don’t always reach out to those neighborhoods, but that’s a different story).

There is certainly a need for more housing for the homeless in Houston. Star of Hope’s downtown shelter regularly has people sleeping on the floor in their cafeteria. And housing is integral to the rebuilding of lives. If they can do it in Los Angeles; there’s no reason we can’t do it here in Houston. Hopefully we’ll see Houston’s first “housing first” project soon.