The 5 Corners Improvement District, along with District K Council Member Martha Castex-Tatum and city agencies, is turning another corner in the fight to eliminate illegal dumping.
In May, drivers who turned the corner onto 11 District streets where illegal dumping had previously taken place couldn’t find any evidence of trash, furniture, tree limbs, boxes, construction materials, and the like being disposed of illegally.
Because there hadn’t been any. Cameras strategically placed at those locations by the District showed no evidence of dumping having taken place during the month. Only at a 12th location was a portion of a street blighted by illegally dumped material.
The low point in dumping incidents is the latest high point in the effort by the District and its partners to make the area even safer and riper for economic development as well as community pride, according to District Chairman Homer Clark.
“I love our camera program. I think it’s working. It’s been a long time coming, but we’re here,” Clark said at a recent board meeting that Castex-Tatum attended. “It’s an effort to keep the community clean and we want total buy-in from the community.”
“The stars aligned,” Castex-Tatum, who also serves as the city’s vice mayor pro tem, said later. “We are finally getting people on the same page. (May) has been amazing.”
The District erected the cameras in 2019.
Soon after taking office in 2018, Castex-Tatum put together a staff “hot team” to deal with neighborhood nuisances such as illegal dumping. She drove through the area she represents on a regular basis, looking for ways to make it cleaner and greener.
“You can’t get people to move here, get home builders and economic development, without a clean community,” the council member said. “Quite frankly, trash begets trash. It is my hope that a clean, beautiful community will beget more clean, beautiful development.”
Working with the 5 Corners District, whose top job under state law is neighborhood economic development, Castex-Tatum summarized her tough anti-dumping message in a video last year.
The hot team looks for dumping violations on its own and also responds to dumping complaints reported by residents to the city’s 3-1-1 service. With its two truck/trailer sets, the team removes the material or taps city departments to help haul away the heaviest items.
License plates and faces caught on video, and sometimes receipts or other records discarded with the dumped objects, lead to the individual violators. They are subject to city Department of Neighborhoods citations at the least; in many other cases, the evidence helps the Houston Police Department file criminal charges against the perpetrators.
“Some people have gone to jail,” the council member said. “If you dump in our area, we will catch you.”
Mayor Sylvester Turner announced in March that the city would spend $18 million over the next two years to help clean up illegal dumping. In June the city reached a settlement with the U.S. Justice Department over the federal agency’s investigation into allegations that the city was lax in cleaning up the problem in some majority Black and Hispanic neighborhoods.
It seems the 5 Corners District, as it has done with public art and keeping a lid on crime, is ahead of the curve.