2020 State of the City Speech
Hosted by the Greater Houston Partnership
This is the mayor’s speech as written.
Taped 10.19.2020 and viewed 10.22.2020.
It is an honor to be with you today for my 2020 State of the City address.
Thank you, Dr. Khator for the generous introduction.
This is my 5th state of the city, and while each one has been special, this one, during an unprecedented year, is significant while we are in the midst of a global pandemic, social and civil unrest, economic instability and a highly charged election season.
Since March, 196 meetings, conferences and conventions have been canceled or rescheduled which equates to 539,372 hotel rooms, and an estimated economic loss to our city of $332 million.
Currently citywide hotel occupancy is at 44 percent but downtown, it is 17 percent.
Businesses were forced to close and/or reduce capacity and many employees are working remotely. In the Houston Metropolitan area, 350,000 employees were laid off in March and April. Since then, we have recouped 142,600 jobs, but that leaves 207,600 jobs that we need to recover to return to pre-COVID-19 employment.
The City’s revenue stream has been affected with a loss in sales tax and other revenue of over $107 million.
I have charged Houston First with reimaging their role in our convention and entertainment business to seek out additional opportunities including additional revenue sources.
For the meetings’ industry, there is a bright spot. The Houston First sales team immediately pivoted, working with clients to rebook Houston into the future.
They have been able to recapture 23 out of 24 key citywide programs and 92 percent of the contracted room nights for future years.
This was a critical and proactive response and it will provide economic resiliency in the years to come, yet the impact for 2020 and into 2021 will be significant for our hospitality community.
But what you cannot foresee and, in some cases, prevent, you simply must manage.
Since the first initial positive cases, the Houston Health Department has led one of the most remarkable response to the pandemic in the country. We have established free testing sites, and we have hired over 300 contact tracers to help combat the spread of COVID-19.
In April, I tapped former Shell Energy C.E.O Marvin Odum to lead Houston’s COVID Response and Recovery. Marvin is no stranger to tackling big challenges head-on. He was the City’s Harvey Recovery Czar, and in both positions, he graciously accepted a generous salary from the city of $1.
Also, in April, I launched the Mayor’s Houston’s Health Equity Response (H.E.R.) Task Force to provide essential resources and educational tools to our city’s vulnerable and at-risk populations.
Working with partners in education, health care experts and community groups, the task force has distributed 1.3 M masks, made more than four-thousand food and supply deliveries, and created the successful Mask Up! Campaign. It also hosted virtual town halls to provide support and resources to those facing mental health challenges as a result of the pandemic.
The Health Department has established the mental health support line, 713-999-9442, taking calls from 1 – 11 p.m. with the federal CARES dollars.
We have provided $35 million in rental assistance and $20 million in grants to small businesses.
In January, I instructed Public Works to present a systematic plan that identifies those streets that need to be seriously rehabilitated, a potential funding source and an estimated timeline for work to commence.
I am proud to say that in September, we kicked-off the program to repair streets throughout the city.
This year, we unanimously passed a balanced budget with an 8% fund balance, without having to layoff or furlough municipal employees or first responders. Included in the budget is $15 million for a rainy-day fund and money for five police cadet classes.
In February, My Office of Resilience under Director Marissa Aho launched Resilient Houston. It is a framework for how the City should address future shocks and stressors regarding transportation, natural disasters and pandemics.
In April, we launched the City’s first ever Climate Action Plan with a goal of carbon neutrality by 2050, if not sooner with the support of energy companies. And this year, the City also hosted the inaugural Houston Climate Week with over 5200 registrants to kickoff implementation of Houston Climate Action Plan.
And late last year, we kicked-off EVolve Houston – a public/private partnership with NRG, Shell, CenterPoint, UH and the Sustainability Office to accelerate electrification of private and commercial fleet vehicles in Houston.
After the City faced Harvey in 2017, this year, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, FEMA, awarded the fourth federal Hazard Mitigation grant to the City of Houston. The award marks the fourth and final approval sought by the City to pursue large-scale and transformative flood mitigation projects that will reduce flooding in areas mostly affected by record-high rainfall.
Over the last year, we have made tremendous progress in our goal to transform Houston into #Silicon Bayou.
The Rice Alliance announced their clean energy accelerator, which will help to create and foster a new generation of young entrepreneurs in our City.
We announced the first climatetech incubator in the city, which will be in Midtown’s 16-acre Innovation District, a growing epicenter for the city’s innovation ecosystem. Greentown Houston will occupy the former Fiesta Grocery Store with more than 40,000 square feet of prototyping lab, office, and community space for about 200-300 employees of 50 young companies.
Greentown Houston will be the innovation showcase for the energy transition. The Innovation District is already home to the ION, multiple startup support organizations; investors, major corporations, universities, civic and business leadership organizations downtown, all connected by a Metrorail line.
The City is committed to ensuring that the Ion and the surrounding Innovation district benefits all Houstonians, including those living and working near the facility. We are committed in ensuring that all community interests are heard and represented in the final agreement, which we hope to have accomplished by the end of 2020.
I am also proud that we expanded our groundbreaking digital alliance with Microsoft to bring to Houston “Accelerate,” a new program designed to address economic recovery through skilling both underserved communities and re-skilling the many Americans impacted by COVID-19.
But our work in the City of Houston is about more than infrastructure and innovation. We are also focused on people in neighborhoods across Houston.
This year, we became one of only two mayoral offices in the nation to launch an Office for Adult Literacy advocacy, serving as a model of economic impact through service for cities across America.
We held a virtual groundbreaking with the Library Foundation on the Barbara Bush Literacy Plaza, which had been delayed.
We expanded the Mayor’s Office of Human Trafficking to also focus on Domestic Violence.
In June 2019, the Complete Communities initiative expanded to five additional neighborhoods – Alief-Westwood, Fort Bend Houston, Kashmere Gardens, Magnolia Park-Manchester, and Sunnyside, where we are working to revitalize and transform Houston’s most under-resourced Neighborhoods and create a more equitable and prosperous city for all Houstonians. The pro-active response to racial inequity and social injustice is Complete Communities.
Like other major cities around the country this year, we have been confronted with the calls for social justice and racial equity. Throughout the summer, we watched as other major cities were rocked by unrest and demands to defund the police.
But prior to the death of George Floyd, the marches, demonstrations and protests, I have asked the business community and financial institutions to invest in my Complete Communities’ initiatives.
It has not been easy, and the responses have been slow. Some have stepped up and I certainly want to thank the Houston Endowment for investing $2.5 million in the management and community initiatives of Complete Communities, which represent by far the single largest donation.
In Houston, we witnessed a crowd of 60,000 people who marched from Discovery Green to City Hall, following the death of George Floyd. That protest by and large was peaceful, but meaningful investments and reforms are needed in our city.
I appointed a Task Force on Policing Reform, led by Chair Larry Payne, which recently submitted 104 recommendations. Most of them I wholeheartedly support; up to date body cameras, restructuring the Independent Police Oversight Board, expanding our crisis intervention response teams. These recommendations were not just intended for the mayor and city council, but for the city, and I would encourage all of you to read the report.
Even in the midst of this pandemic, the City of Houston and Harris County this year have partnered to fund a new COVID-19 Homeless Respite and Rehabilitation Center.
Individuals suffering from severe mental health issues while experiencing homelessness are some of our most vulnerable during the pandemic. This groundbreaking facility will enable mental health experts to connect with them, so they are permanently housed.
In addition, the City and County have allocated $65 million to house 5,000 persons over the next two years.
Working with the Coalition for the Homeless,
The Community-wide COVID-19 Housing Program represents an unprecedented coordinated effort on the part of the City and the County to address homelessness in the region.
Aand will permanently house people who are currently experiencing literal homelessness and either living in shelters, encampments or on the streets, as well as those who may fall into homelessness as a result of the economic effects of the coronavirus.
Houston is a City that continues to transform, to innovate and to be an example for the rest of the country on how to be diverse, welcoming and inclusive.
As we gradually take steps to reopen, we recognize that the full recovery will take several years, but when we work together, we put ourselves in the best position to manage the virus and rebound from it.
As we move forward through these unprecedented times, the City’s foundation is strong; the City itself is resilient; and the City’s future is bright.