Houstonians support creative new responses to gun violence in addition to beefing up the city’s police force, according to a Kinder Institute for Urban Research survey released Monday.
The survey found most Houstonians want to spend more on the Houston Police Department, but also back alternatives, including gun storage education, community violence interruption programs and gun licensing.
To Daniel Potter, senior director of research at Rice University’s Kinder Institute, the survey results represent “an understanding by residents that there is no singular solution that is going to solve this problem. If we are going to address crime, if we are going to create a safer city, we have to go about it from a multi-pronged approach.”
The survey offers a window into residents’ thinking on key policies ahead of the Nov. 7 municipal election. Early voting began Monday and runs through Nov. 3.
On the campaign trail, leading candidates often speak about their proposals on crime, which voters rate as the top concern in the mayoral race.
On other proposals floated during the mayor’s race, the survey revealed that a surprisingly high percentage of residents are open to repealing Houston’s property tax revenue cap, that most are willing to pay a dedicated garbage collection fee, and that residents support spending public money to curb rising housing costs.
The survey, conducted in partnership with the Houston Landing and the Houston Chronicle, collected data between August and September from 4,000 Houstonians who live in Harris County. It found that more than half of residents support increasing the police department’s $1 billion annual budget, which accounts for nearly a third of the city’s general fund spending.
A plurality of residents, 39 percent, support using a Houston Police Department budget bump to hire more officers. Another 15 percent think budget increases should go toward civilian safety officers. The remainder, 46 percent, either opposed spending more on HPD or supported slashing its budget, which would run afoul of a 2021 state law.
Houstonians remain open to other responses to crime, however. The survey found more than 80 percent of residents support mandatory gun licensing and training, gun storage education, community violence interruption programs, academic research on gun violence or increasing employment opportunities in neighborhoods with high rates of shootings.
Gun licensing and training would run into legal and political challenges, but Potter said the other ideas could be tried at City Hall.
“They are things that would not come up against a court challenge or constitutional challenge, and they are things that would help to address challenges around gun violence and gun deaths, as well as crime more generally,” he said.
Houstonians also seem to support an everything-but-the-kitchen-sink approach to the rising cost of housing.
More than two-thirds of respondents supported spending public funds on the issue, including paying developers to build low-income housing, providing down payment assistance and repairing damaged homes owned by low-income families. They also favored creating an emergency rental assistance fund, creating a right to counsel for people facing eviction, paying to repair apartments that landlords agree to keep affordable and guaranteeing a universal basic income for the working poor.
Solutions to Houston’s growing housing affordability problem will be on the scale of billions of dollars, Potter said, which means the city will have to team up with the state, federal government, nonprofits and other partners.
Houstonians long have complained about the quality of city services, but whether they are willing to pay more for them has been another question.
In 2004, voters imposed a property tax revenue cap that has diverted about $1.8 billion from city coffers since 2015. The revenue cap will give the next mayor little wiggle room once federal pandemic relief funds expire.
The cap limits the annual growth of property tax revenues to whichever is lower: 4.5 percent or the combined rates of inflation and population growth.
Most Houstonians are at least open to removing that cap, the Kinder survey shows, but a large bloc of residents who are dead-set against the idea could create a firewall against repeal.
Twenty-four percent of residents supported removing the cap, 35 percent said maybe and 41 percent opposed the idea.
Potter, the researcher, said he was surprised so many Houstonians were open to removing the cap. Still, he thought the results indicated that if the next mayor wants to get rid of the cap, they will have a lot of persuading to do.
“You’ve got to specify some details to make sure that you lock in the ‘yeses,’ you are bringing along the ‘maybes’ and you are converting some of the ‘nos.’ That 40 percent creates an incredible uphill battle for anybody who is trying to change the rules there,” he said.
Residents also are open to raising the city’s drainage fee, which currently costs the average homeowner about $5 a month that is put toward stormwater maintenance. More than two-thirds said they would be willing to pay at least double that.
The people of Houston were open to another fee that has been floated repeatedly in recent years: a monthly garbage charge. Houston is the only big city in Texas without such a garbage fee, which costs Dallas homeowners $34 a month and Austin residents up to $50 a month.
After hearing about the garbage fees in other cities, two-thirds of residents said they would support one here. Still, only a tenth of residents were willing to pay the $35 a month that would put Houston on par with other big cities.