HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- It's an issue that continues to make headlines over and over again -- neighbors feeling frustrated by illegal dumping near their homes. On Wednesday, the city of Houston announced the details of One Clean Houston, a new initiative aimed at fighting this problem.
Walter Mallett, a resident of Kashmere Gardens, is tired of seeing piles of trash near where he lives. He said he's tried to report the issue to the city of Houston several times, but it felt like the problem always came back.
"This is an ongoing problem. This is a generational problem. This is not a problem that just started today. This has impacted our communities for years," Mallett said. "It makes you feel pretty much less than a person, that some people actually would come to your neighborhood and dump their debris, their waste, and things that they don't want in their own yard."
READ MORE: Only on 13: Kashmere Gardens neighbor rolls on couple caught illegal dumping near park, church
Keith Downey, who is the president of Kashmere Gardens Super Neighborhood Council, said the populations suffering the most from this issue are those from predominantly Black and Hispanic areas.
"The most impacted communities are our minority communities, and the fact of the matter is that it brings down the mindset instead of building it up. Not only are we in food deserts, we have environmental issues. Everyone wants to live in a clean community. People are not going to live in trash," Downey said.
That's one of the reasons why Mayor Sylvester Turner and other city officials announced the details of "One Clean Houston" -- a $17 million initiative designed to combat illegal dumping. They held their press conference in Northside Village, an area plagued by recurring piles of trash.
"Illegal dumping can decrease the quality of life in our communities, create health hazards, contaminate waterways, in many ways hamper development, and negatively impact property values," Turner said. "Violators who are dumping illegally and endangering our communities must be held accountable. The city will pursue every legal remedy and bring them to justice."
RELATED: Mayor Turner promises 'One Clean Houston' plan's announcement before end of March
Houston police Sgt. Patrick Morrissey said his agency conducted about 600 investigations in 2022, and so far this year, they're already at 400. Harris County Pct. 1 Constable Alan Rosen said in 2022, his department had 276 investigations of illegal dumping and 139 arrests. Currently, they have 22 active investigations.
"I can tell you that people live within five miles of where they illegally dumped. Generally speaking, they only do it once. Once they're caught, they don't dump again, unless you're these serial dumpers that are actually getting paid by various companies to get rid of either construction waste or tires," Rosen said.
According to the city's solid waste management department (SWMD), they've received more than 5,000 complaints about illegal dumping over the last 12 months. The average wait time for clean-ups was about 45 days, something they've been able to reduce to 20 days. But they know that's not enough.
READ MORE: Houston city council's effort to stop illegal dumping: 'Going to take all of us working together'
One Clean Houston focuses on three key areas: rapid cleanup, better enforcement, and prevention and education
Rapid clean-up includes an investment of $200,000 for hiring incentives in response to a 17% vacancy rate caused by the national driver shortage. This allows the city to provide a $5,000 hiring bonus to new drivers. Officials said under an aggressive approach, the average resolution time should decrease to seven to 10 days.
Better enforcement entails $419,000 to add more surveillance cameras throughout the city to help identify and prosecute people engaging in illegal dumping, $608,000 for six additional code enforcement officers, and $100,000 in additional overtime to HPD's Environmental Crimes Unit for investigations
Prevention and education will expand trash drop-off options for residents. The city already has six neighborhood depository centers, where people can dispose of bulky items and recyclables free of charge. But it will also pilot a neighborhood drop-off program at the Blue Ridge and McCarthy landfills on April 29th.
The city of Houston also offers the public an online form and multiple phone numbers to report illegal dumping:
- Rat-on-a-Rat Line: (713) 525-A-RAT or (713) 525-2728
- Harris County's Environmental Crime Tipline: (832) 927-1567
- Crimestoppers: (713) 222-TIPS (You can remain anonymous and may be eligible for a reward of up to $5,000)
Mallett said he's cautiously optimistic about the outcome of the program but will be watching to see its impact on his community over the next few years.
"I'm going to be skeptical for a long time. But these programs have to start somewhere," he said.
To request a clean-up in your neighborhood, dial 311. For more details about the program and to access the Dumping Track map, visit the One Clean Houston website.
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