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Fixing sidewalks

I like this.

Houston’s leaders often decry the condition of city sidewalks, whether missing, overgrown or buckled by tree roots. Then there’s the safety risks when pedestrians are forced to walk on the crumbling concrete or adjacent streets.

But the city is unwilling to assume responsibility for all sidewalks in Houston – or foot the accompanying billion-dollar bill. That’s why Mayor Annise Parker and City Council members instead are discussing making it easier for homeowners to keep their own sidewalks up to par.

The council [considered] hiring two sidewalk repair contractors with whom fixed prices have been negotiated, as well as changes to city rules that would waive the need to submit detailed plans up front and more than $100 in permitting and related fees homeowners today must pay when replacing sections of sidewalk.

Countless homeowners do not know city rules make them responsible for their own sidewalks, Parker said, but for those who know, the new program could help residents unsure of whom to call for a fix.

“This is designed to allow an easy process for a citizen to say, ‘I want to repair my sidewalk, I want a contractor I can trust, I want to know what the fair price is,’ ” Parker said. “They don’t have to hire our contractors, but we’ve vetted the contractors, we’ve established a price. Even if they don’t use ours, we think it will be helpful because they can go and say, ‘I can go to the city and this is what I’ll pay … can you beat that price?’ ”

The program would allow residents to fill out a form on the Department of Public Works and Engineering website, triggering a visit from a city employee who would decide if the repair was feasible, and, if so, give the homeowner a cost estimate. The homeowner could then pay the city, which would collect a 7 percent administrative fee and pass the rest of the money to one of the preselected contractors. City staff would inspect the company’s work afterward.

The ordinance was passed unanimously by Council on Wednesday. You did know that homeowners are responsible for fixing their own sidewalks, right? As the story notes, this is far from unique to Houston. Ideally, what this plan will do is make it easier, and perhaps a bit cheaper, for someone who wants to do that to get it done. How much effect that will have is unclear to me, but it’s a simple enough thing to do and it won’t cost the city anything. There’s plenty of sidewalk to fix in this town, so every little bit helps.

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3 Comments

  1. Manuel Barrera says:

    It the home owners are responsible, then they should also be able to remove the sidewalk from their property.

    A former council member removed the sidewalk from the side yard of his property. Nothing happened, he was not forced to put it back or pay a fine.

    We can’t have trees and sidewalks, they don’t go well together. Gravel paths as you see quite often in Austin make more sense.

  2. matx says:

    I grew up in the Chicago area and trees and sidewalks coexisted just fine. Maybe it is a matter of giving people alternatives to the popular live oaks which may not be a good tree to be adjacent to a sidewalk–two in our neighborhood just toppled this past weekend and they had surprisingly shallow roots for mature trees.

  3. Bill Daniels says:

    The mayor and city council must be celebrating “4-20” day if they really think homeowners en masse are going to start fixing sidewalks that do not belong to them. “Oh, I would have gladly shelled out hundreds or thousands of dollars if I only had the number of a concrete contractor.” Really? Really?

    The way this actually reads is a shot across the bow. If you call the city to have a sidewalk repaired, they tell you to call their “preferred contractor.” And of course, now they know where you live so a city inspector can come out and demand you fix the sidewalk.

    Lesson: don’t call the city.

    [end tinfoil hat rant]