- Associated Press - Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Here are excerpts from recent editorials in Texas newspapers:

Victoria Advocate. Oct. 7, 2017.

All people deserve an affordable place to live, but sadly that is not the case in Victoria.

Long before Hurricane Harvey hit the coast, the Crossroads was in need of affordable housing.

Now in his aftermath, it is even more crucial that affordable permanent housing is developed.

About 6,700 families were displaced shortly after the hurricane. Of those, about 5,000 families are seeking permanent homes.

Couple that with the fact that nearly 14 percent of the county’s residents live below the poverty line, only magnifies the dire need for affordable permanent housing.

The displaced residents are trying to figure out how to pick up the pieces and rebuild so they can continue to call the Crossroads home.

Victoria has two opportunities now to address the lack of long-term affordable housing.

Prospera Housing Community Service, which already owns properties in Victoria, wants to expand.

A newly formed nonprofit, Promise Pointe, is also working to provide permanent affordable housing to the chronically homeless.

While Promise Pointe is more specialized housing, Prospera could assist a larger pool of residents.

Both groups understand their projects take time to develop. Both need land, funding and the support of the community and its leaders.

Even if the land and funding were approved now, it would take at least two years for Prospera to build its project.

But to get the government funding needed to build such a project takes the blessing of the city council.

Council members should be proactively looking for solutions to the affordable housing problem as well as backing the efforts of those two organizations that have stepped forward.

In 2012, a similar company came to the council seeking its support to build affordable housing near the mall. They already had the land picked out. All they needed before submitting the highly competitive funding application was the council’s support. But the council approved two of the three support measures, basically killing the project.

The city council must work with Prospera, and companies like it who want to invest in Victoria, by building affordable housing for its residents.

The city must be willing to enter into public-private partnerships to provide the needed housing.

Landowners must be willing to join the efforts by offering land for the development.

We can no longer afford to sit back and say we need housing, but not in my neighborhood.

The longer we wait, we stand to lose productive, working residents because they had to move to find a place for their family to live.

When that begins to happen, the city’s economy will begin to suffer.

Victorians must step up now to support such programs. Talk to your council members and encourage them to support affordable permanent housing projects that will help the city grow.

We can’t say it enough, the council has to be proactive as well. They can’t be “waiting for the dust to settle, as our mayor said at a recent council meeting, to start looking at ways to provide affordable housing.

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Houston Chronicle. Oct. 8, 2017.

Native Texans know to keep their eyes peeled for the rare flora and fauna that still make their home in our state’s natural preserves, including the ocelot, horny toad or kangaroo rat.

These days, we’re on the lookout for a once prosperous species that might as well be on the verge of extinction - the statewide Texas Democrat.

No matter your political alignment, their disappearance should serve as a warning about the unhealthy state of our political ecology. Without effective competition to keep things in check, dominant political parties can spiral out of control. You end up with legislative sessions that waste time on bizarre wedge issues rather than the real core challenges facing our state.

Republicans today hold a monopoly on statewide offices with all 27 - the governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general, comptroller, land commissioner, agriculture commissioner, three railroad commissioners, nine members of the Supreme Court, and nine members of the Court of Criminal Appeals - belonging to that party.

No Democrat has won a statewide office since 1994, the longest losing streak in the nation.

Yes, a healthy crop of talented Democrats are running for Congress in 2018, but it’s disappointing for the state as a whole that more candidates of substance aren’t stepping up to run statewide, particularly for governor.

It’s a daunting task to run against an incumbent governor with a $41 million war chest in a state that prescribes virtually no limits on campaign donations. But it’s an important one. A Democratic candidate of substance could help steer the next legislative system away from social issues like bathroom legislation and toward issues that matter such as public school finance and accessibility to health care.

In addition, one-party dominance is a breeding ground for corruption. In the late 1950s, Houston’s newest suburb of Sharpstown was the object of much civic pride with its innovative amenities like Sharpstown Center, the first covered, air-conditioned shopping mall in the state.

No one could have predicted at the time that the crisis involving Sharpstown would end up toppling statewide Democratic leadership. Yet it was only so appropriate that the 1970 stock and bribery scandal first reared its head on the day that Democrats had gathered in Austin to celebrate their sweeping election victories and statewide dominance dating back to the end of Reconstruction.

“American democracy works best when both parties are strong and capable of holding each other accountable,” Texas Monthly writer Paul Burka wrote.

The filing deadline for statewide office is Dec. 11.

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San Antonio Express-News. Oct. 9, 2017.

People are moving to Boerne in droves.

They are drawn to this Hill Country town, just 30 miles northwest of San Antonio, for its outstanding schools, gorgeous scenery and easy quality of life. It’s a place where you can stretch out and see the stars, stroll past old buildings on Main Street and feed the ducks waddling along River Road Park.

It’s a good life in Boerne, and that’s why people keep moving there. But with the new rooftops comes traffic; and with more people come convenience stores, strip malls and chains.

Life is changing in Boerne as the San Antonio region grows and sprawls.

This is a basic reality across the Hill Country as the San Antonio-New Braunfels metro area continues to grow. Already at 2.4 million people, the region is expected to add 1 million more by 2040, putting enormous pressure on our roads, infrastructure and water supplies.

Not to mention the quality of life.

In Boerne that means tension between rural charm and suburban sprawl.

Much of that was spelled out in an Express-News article by Vianna Davila recently.

“All of us want Boerne to stay Boerne,” Boerne Deputy City Manager Jeff Thompson told Davila. But “To say there will be no growth in Boerne is just completely unrealistic.”

At least 5,000 new homes are expected in and around Boerne over the next 15 years. That’s a big deal in a city whose population is about 15,000. It’s a big deal in Kendall County, where the population is more than 40,000.

That means needing more teachers, emergency responders and service workers. It means more affordable housing and traffic control. It means more water. It means more crime. It means building more schools.

While these growth challenges are daunting, leaders and elected officials from across the region can take some valuable lessons from Boerne’s growing pains.

Foremost is the need to empower counties to better manage growth. And that means convincing state legislators.

Much of the growth around Boerne is in the unincorporated county where the taxes and building costs are lower than in cities.

This is a familiar dynamic across the region. Counties have very limited planning and zoning authority, which is an invitation to sprawl and poor planning.

State lawmakers, who have aggressively curbed city annexation, should at least empower counties to properly zone and manage this coming growth. Otherwise, it’s going to be bottleneck city out there.

The next lesson is that we are all in this together. When people think about growth, they think about San Antonio, the nation’s seventh largest city. But it is the entire region that will grow, and that means growing - intelligently - together.

We have to be thinking as one region, and working toward regional solutions to our growing pains. Residents who live in Boerne might very well work in San Antonio - most recent estimates peg more than 6,400 daily work trips from Kendall to Bexar County. And residents in San Antonio might very well fill many of these needed positions in fast-growing Boerne.

Put another way: We drive on each others’ roads. We visit each others’ parks. The broader region relies on the colleges, universities and hospitals in Bexar County. And the growth in Bexar County is going to dramatically change the broader region.

We’re in this together and need to be partnering on smart-growth policies. That means persuading the Legislature to give us the tools to do that.

If we do this right, come 2040, Boerne will still be Boerne.

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The Dallas Morning News. Oct. 9, 2017.

The stories are heartbreaking: Dozens of poor families in southern Dallas swindled out of their life savings by con artists who “sold” them homes they didn’t even own.

Some of them were so desperate to make better lives for their families that they scraped up thousands of dollars for dilapidated vacant homes - only to be ripped off by criminals who saw them as easy prey.

How does this keep happening? And when will our leaders take action prevent it?

The Dallas Morning News’ Naomi Martin reported this month that before he was arrested, ringleader Carl Govan Jr. regularly waltzed into the Dallas County clerks’ office and received a rubber stamp on fraudulently transferring deeds of 46 homes, according to authorities. He is alleged to have bilked victims - some of them undocumented residents - out of at least $320,000.

No one checked for accuracy. It’s a system disturbingly ripe for abuse. Even while declaring his innocence from jail, Govan acknowledged the county system is a scammer’s delight.

And if the circumstances surrounding this case sound familiar, they are.

For months in 2014, we wrote editorials about the case of Douglas “Chase” Fonteno, accused of using “squatters rights” claims to dozens of houses in southern Dallas neighborhoods without the knowledge or permission of the real owners. He then issued mortgages on those homes, bilking unsuspecting buyers out of payments.

The case led Dallas Rep. Eric Johnson and Sen. Royce West to spearhead legislation that cracked down on that unethical maneuver and made it clear that it is illegal. Everybody from the city attorney’s office to the then-district attorney pledged to help fix the problem.

The bill passed, but a variety of housing scams still exist. It’s clear Texas needs to do more to shore up the gaping holes in the deed transfer practices at county clerk offices.

Beyond the Govan case, the feds nabbed two ex-cons, Arlando Jacobs and Clarence Roland, who made millions by filing forged deeds in county clerk offices in Texas and two other states for six years before they were caught.

Dallas County Clerk John Warren laments that his office can’t do more than the state law requires: a fresh notary seal and the seller’s signature. He says he doesn’t have the staff or ability to verify every document’s accuracy.

The only way the clerk’s office can prevent fraud is through its service that allows owners to receive alerts if someone files a record related to their property, he says.

That’s not enough.

Other states have gone further. California and Illinois require notaries to record thumbprints for all real estate transactions.

There have to be better safeguards for Texas consumers and rightful property owners. If Attorney General Ken Paxton weren’t so busy defending himself in court and filing lawsuits against the feds, his office could actually help develop them.

It’s good that authorities are successfully bringing these bad actors to justice. But these scams are too easy, and they take advantage of the most vulnerable among us. Texas must do more to protect these victims in the first place.

___

The Monitor. Oct. 10, 2017.

It’s clear that President Donald Trump believes he has found his ultimate trump card in the 800,000 DACA participants who enrolled in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which he is now playing to prompt Congress to reform immigration.

On Sunday - just three days after the DACA renewal application period closed - Trump sent Congress a sweeping list of immigration-related demands including a crackdown on “sanctuary cities;” tougher asylum laws; the hiring of 10,000 more ICE agents and nearly 400 more immigration judges; funds to construct a border wall here in the Rio Grande Valley and along the Southwest; and the deportation of unaccompanied children and family units who are not in the DACA program. Otherwise, the fate of DACA, which President Barack Obama enacted in 2012, appears doomed and the DACA enrollees likely face deportation.

While some might view that as cruel and heartless, from a business perspective it makes sense coming from a president with such a business background.

In a glass-half-full perspective, perhaps after all these years of inactivity by Congress, by using these 800,000 youth as pawns in this immigration crisis this might be the ultimate impetus to actually prompt lawmakers to begin working on real reforms - rather than just exchanging nasty rhetoric and barbs that have only served to further divide our nation and polarize sides.

Taking it a step further, perhaps we should take the wise perspective of that of Sister Norma Pimentel, executive director of Catholic Charities of the RGV who heads the Humanitarian Respite Center, and who last month was invited by Pope Francis to the Vatican to help improve worldwide immigration perceptions. She told us quite matter-of-factly on Monday: “He’s using these children as a bargaining chip. . It’s political. He’s a business man.”

She quickly followed up by saying: “Unfortunately they are caught in the middle. He should be focusing more on criminals and ways to make this country better, not these children who were brought here through no fault of their own.”

And that’s how most Americans feel.

A September poll by Latino Decisions of Hispanic adults found 79 percent disagree with President Trump’s decision to end DACA; 91 percent want Congress to pass a Dream Act with a path to earned citizenship; and 87 percent want Congress to pass comprehensive immigration reform, including a path to citizenship for the broader undocumented immigrant community.

Trump announced on Sept. 5 - in large part due to pressure from Republicans, including Texas officials - that he was phasing out the DACA program within six months and set an Oct. 5 renewal application deadline.

Texas has 220,000 DACA participants, the second-highest state behind California. And they are all incredibly vulnerable right now because they, in good faith, registered their addresses and contact information with federal authorities upon applying for the program. Now this information could be used to round them up and send them elsewhere, if Trump so demands it.

And so these youth are, in America’s eyes, the perfect pawns and Trump is playing them at will and like the successful businessman we know him to be.

That doesn’t make it right. But it’s a reality.

And in the business world, where President Trump best thrives, holding an ace like this, will ensure that at least some of his most priority demands are met.

Congress must realize the brinkmanship that is at play here and the hundreds of thousands of families who most certainly will be affected. And that some of his demands are a good idea, like hiring more federal immigration judges, which is something we have called on Congress to do for years.

Putting aside more money for 10,000 more ICE agents also could foster good will with the Trump Administration that could help these DACA youth be allowed to legally stay in the United States for a longer period to enable them to be educated and contributing members of society.

That’s why a joint statement by the two top congressional Democrats, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, is so disappointing and appears to show they lack this understanding.

“We told the president at our meeting that we were open to reasonable border security measures alongside the DREAM Act, but this list goes so far beyond what is reasonable,” they said. “This proposal fails to represent any attempt at compromise.”

They should know at this point in the deal that compromise probably isn’t what President Trump seeks. If his business past is any indicator, he likely wants to secure wins early on and once satisfied, then he will hopefully begin to make some concessions.

Expecting Donald Trump to concede major points right now before Congress has even put forth legislative immigration proposals is balderdash.

What Pelosi and Schumer need to do is to rally lawmakers to get busy crafting bills from which the Trump Administration will begin to negotiate. Otherwise, come March, thousands of these DACA Dreamers will begin losing their work permits and protected status if a deal is not reached.

It’s unfortunately all in the art of the deal. And Congress has yet to deal anything.


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