June 23, 2007
Day Labor centers

I'm still trying to understand the day labor center funding thing, which went one way on one day and then sort of reversed yesterday.

Houston Mayor Bill White will help locate $100,000 to keep an East End day labor center from closing its doors when a city contract ends this month, his staff confirmed late Thursday.

The controversial East End Worker Development Center, at 2 North Sampson and popular with undocumented workers, is the only city-funded hiring hall in operation in Houston.

City officials decided recently not to renew a $100,000-a-year contract with the nonprofit Neighborhood Centers Inc. to operate the center. The funding issue also surfaced in spring 2006 when a City Council member and others charged that the center encouraged illegal immigration.

The center is operated with federal Community Development Block Grant funds.

Frank Michel, a spokesman for White who is on business in Washington, D.C, confirmed the mayor has agreed to work with center operators to find new funding.

"What he said is he would work with them to identify other sources of funding," Michel said. "What that is, I can't say at this point because it hasn't yet been identified."

Michel said officials at Neighborhood Centers have been notified of the mayor's effort.

Marc Levinson, director of communications at the nonprofit agency, said he spoke with White's chief of staff, Michael Moore, late Thursday.

"The mayor has committed to finding the private funding necessary to keep the center open for another year," Levinson said.

Levinson said if funding becomes available, he would love to keep the program going. "We believe it is a valuable program," he said.

We certainly know by now that the City is interested in getting out of the landlord business. I don't think that's quite the case here, since I don't see any indication that the city owns the land, but whatever. They'd rather it be done with private money, and whether I agree with that or not, it's at least a reasonable position. Where I'm confused is the rationale that was given initially by the city for its actions:

Frank Michel, spokesman for Mayor Bill White, confirmed that the city did not allocate funding for the center from this year's federal Community Development Block Grant program.

''The City Council determined that," said Michel, adding that there are no plans to explore alternate funding. ''It was debated last year at great length. The upshot of it was that we would not fund it again."

Michel said the city's funding of the facility became an issue last spring after then-Councilwoman Shelley Sekula-Gibbs -- who was seeking the Republican nomination to succeed U.S. Rep. Tom Delay -- and others said the center promoted illegal immigration.

"There are many in the community who say we shouldn't be spending taxpayer money on it, because it encourages illegal immigration," Michel said.

There are also people who think we should disband Metro, and people who think we should bomb Iran. We call them "political minorities", and we generally don't take our direction from them. I mean, didn't we just have a city election in which this sort of thing was an issue, with the guy who supported that position losing?

As I said, in the end I'm okay with what the city is doing, as are Stace and Marc Campos. All I'm saying is that if Frank Michel had stopped talking after his first paragraph, I'd be a lot less puzzled by all this.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on June 23, 2007 to Local politics