Houston candidates speak at affordable housing, small business forum

Thirty candidates vying for elected office in Houston took the stage Saturday to introduce themselves to voters two days before early voting begins in the Nov. 7 election.

Eight candidates for mayor, four for comptroller and 18 for at-large seats on the Houston City Council participated in the forum at Wheeler Avenue Baptist Church. The event — organized by the Houston alumni chapter of Delta Sigma Theta sorority and other local organizations — focused on some of the key issues, including public safety, affordable housing and the budget.

Here are three takeaways from the forum.

Candidates offer ideas to increase affordable housing, fight homelessness

Several questions to the mayoral candidates and At-Large 3 focused on Houston’s lack of affordable housing and the programs they would implement to continue reducing homelessness in the city.

U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, one of the leading mayoral candidates, touted her past work to provide affordable housing in Houston and said public-private partnerships are critical to making those projects happen. She said she will meet with residents and civic clubs to determine which projects might be best for a neighborhood.

“There needs to be more multi-family housing where the neighbors want it and more single-family housing where the neighbors want it,” she said.

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State Sen. John Whitmire, who polls say is Jackson Lee’s main rival in the mayoral race, did not attend the forum.

Robin Williams and David Lowy said Texas needs rent control policies to limit how much landlords can raise tenants’ rents.

At-Large 3 candidate Erica McCrutcheon said having more affordable housing will limit evictions.

“If we can stop the flow of that, then we can keep people from ending up on the street,” she said.

At-Large 3 candidate Twila Carter said the city needs to do more work to get an accurate count of Houston’s homeless population. She also proposed an outreach program to provide services to them.

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At-Large 3 candidate Ethan Michelle Ganz and mayoral candidates Lee Kaplan, Jackson Lee, Lowy and Williams stressed the need for better access to mental health care, substance use treatment and other services.

“You can not [only] give people a roof over their heads,” Kaplan said.

Candidates for municipal councilors promise to support small businesses

Five candidates for At-Large 1 offered a variety of ideas to support small businesses in Houston.

Leah Wollthal said the city needs to focus on making its neighborhoods safe and clean so small businesses can thrive. She also suggested reaching out to entrepreneurs to help them navigate the process of opening a small business.

Kendall Baker said she would audit the city’s permitting office to determine if it could function better and promised to create a separate office for developers.

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“I plan to be your champion for small business,” he said.

Eric Glenn, Melanie Miles and Julian Ramirez also said the city needs to do more to ensure small businesses have the same opportunity to succeed as larger companies.

Comptroller candidates promise to make the budget more affordable

The four comptroller candidates acknowledged that the city’s annual financial statements are difficult for most voters to understand. They promised to simplify it for the public.

“You don’t want to read a 400-page report,” said candidate Dave Martin, the current mayoral candidate and Ward E councilman. “You want a one-page document.”

Orlando Sanchez, a former city councilman, said he put Harris County’s checkbook online while serving as Harris County treasurer. Martin said he helped the city create a website where residents can find information about the budget.

Chris Hollins said he will rely on his experience as Harris County Clerk in 2020 to present the budget to residents “in a way that makes sense.” Shannon Nobles, the current chief deputy comptroller, said she will meet with community members and provide virtual updates to explain the budget.

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