HOUSTON – (Realty News Report) – More than a year after Hurricane Harvey hit Houston, how is the city recovering? Is Houston prepared for another massive storm? What more can be done? To find out the answers to these questions, Realty News Report went to the top — to Mayor Sylvester Turner, the Executive Officer of the City. Elected in December 2015, Mayor Turner is serving his first four-year term as Houston’s 62nd mayor. Since taking office, Mayor Turner devised and obtained public approval for historic pension reforms that reduced the city’s liability by $3.5 billion and led the city’s remarkable rebound from Hurricane Harvey, among other achievements. Houston has gained more than 100,000 new jobs since the hurricane passed.
Realty News Report: How is Houston progressing in its recovery from Harvey?
Mayor Sylvester Turner: We’ve been “open for business” since shortly after the floodwaters receded. Of the dozen national conventions scheduled to take in place in Houston after the storm, not one canceled, or needed to. Our economy is robust. The real estate market continues to break records. The NCAA plans to bring back the men’s Final Four. Many people from around the country and the world continue to make their new homes in Houston. And yet some of family, friends and neighbors are still in need, and we continue to help them. I am especially sensitive to the plight of the people with disabilities, those in need, seniors and children who may still be living in dwellings they have been unable to fully repair. Through our network of Neighborhood Restoration Centers that we created after Harvey, and through any other means necessary, we will continue to reach out to them. We are a changed city, having been through hell and high water as a unified community. It’s been not just our hope, but also our goal — to which we have given a lot of sweat equity — to change our city into one that is more resilient in the next storm. Fortunately, we are making progress, one ordinance, federal funding mechanism, bayou widening and home elevation at a time.
Realty News Report: In terms of community spirit, emotional health and emerging from the grief and sense of loss, how are the people of Houston recovering?
Mayor Sylvester Turner: I’d never try to minimize the grief that flowed from the deaths of 36 people in Harris County and devastating losses suffered by people whose homes were destroyed by floodwaters. But the silver lining from Harvey is that our community spirit is better and higher precisely because of the storm. Houstonians were already well known for being friendly, charitable and neighborly. Harvey tested every one of those values, and our residents responded with bigger-than-ever outpourings of help, love, money and work for each other. It was gratifying, too, to see national media and international media saying so.
Realty News Report: Can Houston be called a resilient city?
Mayor Sylvester Turner: Resiliency is in Houston’s DNA. The city has bounced back countless times – from oil busts, other economic shocks, hurricanes and floods. The city seal shows a train engine and a plow because they symbolized the economy long ago. But Houston quickly moved on from steam engines and rice. Now the question is whether Houston will be less flood-prone when the next Harvey comes. And the answer is yes.
Realty News Report: Some well-established neighborhoods developed in the 1950s and 60s, such as Meyerland, were great places to live for decades. Now they flood fairly often. Why?
Mayor Sylvester Turner: Two things: Continued development upstream, which sends rain runoff into our drainage and bayou systems, and climate change that has magnified the power and intensity of the storms. But as we execute our resiliency plan, bayou widenings, the acquisition of upstream detention basins and other mitigation measures will increase. I appreciate the fact that present and future homeowners are showing confidence in this better future by continuing to repair or replace homes in Meyerland at an impressive pace, and that companies such as H-E-B supermarkets have made plans to build in the neighborhood as well.
Realty News Report: What is the most important item Houston needs to focus on now?
Mayor Sylvester Turner: We need to look beyond just replacing what was lost. We must build forward, making better decisions about where and how we build. Harvey was a wake-up call to abandon the status quo.
Realty News Report: Is Houston ready for another hurricane or a major rain event?
Mayor Sylvester Turner: We have already learned how to do things better in dealing with epic flooding; we have acquired more rescue boats, as one example. Hurricanes have come and gone since Houston started. But now the heavy rains seem to come more often. While we work for long-term lessening of man-made climate change, we must be better adapters in the short term.
Realty News Report: Is a third reservoir to go along with Barker and Addicks a good idea?
Mayor Sylvester Turner: Unquestionably yes, and I am glad to see the required studies are underway. But this time the Corps needs to keep such studies front and center, not on a shelf. I am confident that the Corps and Congress will move to build such a reservoir.
Realty News Report: Beyond the flooding issue, some say the inner core of Houston – with retraction in the energy industry, with Shell and Exxon Mobil leaving downtown and the failure of the city to develop commuter rail – has put Houston on a track to become another Detroit, which has declined. Can you respond to that?
Mayor Sylvester Turner: As we speak, the energy industry is back in growth mode. But that is hardly the only reason why Houston will continue to thrive. With an economy that is ever diversifying (with the help of the biotech and digital innovation industries), Houston continues to attract people from around the world. With our unique diversity, we continue to show America its future. This is nothing but a formula for success.
Realty News Report: Mayor Turner, what do you see in Houston’s future? What will the city look like in 10, 20 – or even 50 years from now?
Mayor Sylvester Turner: Houston will continue to dynamically transform itself again and again, adapting faster and better than its competitors as it takes its place as the nation’s third most populous city. Market forces and government will work together to make the city more resilient. People will still throng to Houston, speaking bringing more languages and culture and taking advantage of our welcoming, gung-ho spirit. They will want a safe place in which to thrive and unify, and they will get it.