When Hurricane Ike tore through Galveston in September of 2008, it damaged or destroyed nearly 600 public housing units. Mayor Joe Jaworski says that gave the city a rare opportunity to start fresh by bulldozing projects that, in his opinion, shouldn't have been around as long as they were.
"But we do have an obligation to our low-income workers, and our low-income population to provide some amount of public housing. We don't ever want to do that in projects. Cities don't do that, anymore."
About a third of the public housing clients who lost their homes in Ike have been using vouchers to live in privately-owned houses and apartments. Mayor Jaworski favors a plan by the Galveston Housing Authority to build permanent mixed-income developments.
Retired businessman Lewis Rosen will face Jaworski in next month's runoff. He believes the Housing Authority should, instead, concentrate on vouchers, and work with landlords to make sure everyone has a place to stay.
"The Housing Authority should not be in the business of building homes, especially where we don't have job opportunities for people. We need to provide housing for people who have the opportunity to move where the jobs are. And we can do that through vouchers."
Jaworski points out many of the vacant houses and apartments that could accommodate voucher clients don't meet guidelines from the Department of Housing and Urban Development.
"They're not big enough. They don't have the Americans with Disabilities Act requisites. They're also a nightmare to manage if you spread them out, just sort of like a dandelion blown in the wind throughout the community."
Jaworski's challenger Rosen says if he wins the runoff, he would appoint people to the housing authority who, in his words, would have "a fresh, new look" at how Galveston deals with public housing. When asked if that includes trying to get exemptions from HUD to use vouchers for housing that's not entirely up to federal standards:
"We're not going to try to change the world. We're just going to make sure HUD understands what Galveston's needs are."
But the ongoing struggle over public housing isn't Rosen's only issue with how Mayor Jaworski has handled his first term.
"We're four years, almost four years, after Ike, and we have all this money to spend to fix up our streets and sewers, and nothing is being done. There is no plan. There is no accountability for anything going on right now in Galveston. We seem to be jumping around just fixing potholes."
Jaworski responds that the city has already started a quarter-of-a-billion dollars' worth of infrastructure improvements — including new concrete streets, a new wastewater treatment plant, and pumping stations.
"It's a good thing, because it addresses all the issues that presented themselves in Ike as to why we weren't allowed to come back sooner to our properties when the water system failed, the sewer system failed, the sewer system failed. These things are all going to be going on over the next three years. So my intention is to highlight that, and be proud of it, and let the voters respond accordingly."
The runoff between Mayor Jaworski and Lewis Rosen is set for June 16th.
For the most part, we are a compassionate people ... But what happens when we are faced with those who "have not?" Just like so many communities in our country, Galveston is currently dealing with an issue of rebuilding and replacing low income housing destroyed by Hurricane Ike. This current situation has led us to ask, whose responsibility is it to care for those who do not have, or cannot afford, reasonable housing? What programs are in place to help the homeless? What is the cost of all this aid to our citizens and community? And what of the fear, anger and confusion that is tied to this difficult situation? From Houston 8, who is helping the homeless?