The City of Houston has launched a new 311 platform to make interaction easier, quicker, and more convenient for customers requesting information on city services and reporting non-emergency issues. As a longtime city staffer, I’ve worked on spreading the gospel of 311 to all who will listen. Every time you see a pothole, stray animal, water line break, or experience missed trash collection, 311 should be your first stop. If the city doesn’t know about the problem, we can’t fix it. Even if we don’t have the resources to address the matter now, we still need the data. The data helps us figure out where resources may need to be reallocated. We are lost without the data, so please use 311! If your issue hasn’t been addressed in a timely manner or you have any questions about the report, please forward the service request number to my team.  Please also report any glitches you encounter with the new system.

There are now three ways to create a service request: 

  • Smartphone app (Apple and Google)
    • Please note, this app is different than the previous SeeClickFix app
  • Web portal via the Virtual Agent
  • Calling 311 (or 713- 837-0311 for non-local numbers)

The 311 call center receives roughly 2.2 million contacts and creates approximately 450,000 service requests annually. The new system uses a newly-created virtual agent, allowing residents to only rely on call centers for the most complicated cases, reducing overall call volumes and wait times. 

The system’s features include:

  • A customer self-service portal with a virtual agent, allowing residents to create service requests on their own and reduce call wait times
  • A way for City of Houston employees to reclassify a case instead of closing it and opening a new one so that residents don’t receive premature “case closed” notifications when the scope of work has been changed but not completed
  • A standardized service request process for all website, app, or call center requests
  • Prior to service requests being created, there will be a proximity search performed to ensure no duplication of cases created
Over the past year, my team and I have been attending the Livable Places Action Committee’s (LPAC) monthly meetings. LPAC hopes to update portions of Houston’s development codes to create more opportunities for walkability, affordability, and equity. Currently, LPAC has been discussing updating certain requirements and allowing homeowners to add additional units on a lot (unless prohibited by deed restrictions). It’s important for you to let the city know how you feel about this. Please fill out the Single-Family Residential Survey which seeks your input on this development concept. The survey will close on August 16. 

Among these housing types are accessory dwelling units (ADUs), also known as garage apartments or granny flats, which could provide another option for Houstonians who want smaller homes set in a neighborhood instead of an apartment complex or subdividing lots into multi-story townhomes. Best practices for ADUs and all Livable Places recommendations will be evaluated to work within the Houston context, including addressing flood mitigation and other potential developmental impacts. 

Any recommendations made during this process won’t be immediately implemented. Currently in the discussion phase, these recommendations will be reviewed by a technical advisory group and include several opportunities for public comment before presented to the Planning Commission. There will then be a public hearing to determine whether or not to forward the recommendations to City Council. The recommendations aren’t intended to produce a single ordinance, but rather a series of modifications to the current development code. All items will be presented to committee before potentially being considered by council in 2022.

Earlier this month the city announced the creation of the Green Stormwater Infrastructure (GSI) Awards and Recognition and the Expedited Permitting Pilot programs. These two programs are the latest step in the city’s goal to grow green development as recommended in Resilient Houston.

Green infrastructure strives to mimic how rain falls on undeveloped, green landscapes while minimizing the impact of development. Typical design elements include green roofs, rain garden bio-retention systems, permeable pavements, rainwater harvesting, urban forests, constructed wetlands, and other strategies to manage rainwater. Green stormwater infrastructure improves the performance of drainage systems and can make real estate projects safer and more attractive to buyers while providing a wide array of benefits including heat reduction, air and water quality improvement, conservation of native habitats, and improvement of quality of life among others.

Green Stormwater Infrastructure (GSI) Awards and Recognition

The GSI Awards & Recognition Program, led by the Mayor’s Office and the Green Building Resource Center, recognizes new green development and redevelopment projects. The program is intended to recognize some of the most effective and exceptional examples of green buildings in Houston and encourage resiliency measures in more development projects. A committee composed of partners in the resilience and conservation space will score buildings on factors including impact to adjacent communities and efforts for conservation, preservation or incorporation of native flora.

Green Stormwater Infrastructure Expedited Permitting Pilot Program

Through this pilot program, the city will work with developers to test, evaluate and formalize the process steps necessary for an expedited review of projects that include nature-based solutions. It aims to pilot a minimum of 10 projects by August 2022, assisting through consolidating and expediting the permitting process for the development projects that it pilots.

An example of Green Stormwater Infrastructure pictured on the roof of Carnegie Vanguard High School.
This summer my team hosted two young women through summer internships! Erin Walsh, a rising senior at St. John's School shadowed my team and me for two weeks, learning about city departments and Houston’s many community and neighborhood groups. Rachel Buxbaum, a rising sophomore at UT Austin (Hook ‘Em!) was part of our team for nearly three and a half months. During her time here, Rachel researched policy initiatives, represented me at community meetings, and helped draft official communications. Both of these young women were a valuable part of our team and I'm excited to see what the years ahead have in store for them!

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