Statesville Mayoral Candidate Profile: Kyle Houston
BY HALEY JONES
Now 27, Kyle Houston recalls spending time during his childhood at the Iredell County Public Library with his grandmother, heading to Lakewood Park for gatherings, and visiting Signal Hill Mall.
His family moved to Sylva when he was 11 for four years, and then moved to Charlotte four years after that.
“During all eight of those years, I desperately missed everything about Statesville,” Houston said.
After earning his degree at the University of North Carolina-Charlotte, Houston decided to move back to Statesville to be around his family again.
“I immediately noticed that things didn’t seem to be the same,” said the Allstate Insurance agency owner.
Houston commented on the improvements evident in Statesville since his absence, but he also pointed out the need for continued improvement.
“There is much more that needs to be done and broken promises that need to be fulfilled,” he said, referring to issues brought up in his daily conversation with friends, family members and clients who want revitalization efforts to be faster and changes in the local political representation.
When filing for the fall municipal elections began, Houston monitored who was running in hopes there would be a group of candidates dedicated to bringing deperately needed change to Statesville.
“I watched carefully for a qualified and energetic candidate with fresh ideas to enter the mayoral race,” Houston recalls. “When that didn’t happen, I decided to enter the race.”
According to Houston, his experience and qualifications for the Statesville Mayor position include:
- UNC Charlotte – Political Science and Economics Class (Class of 2012)
- North Carolina Student Legislature District Chairperson (2010-2011)
- Students for Liberty – Campus Coordinator (2012)
- LA Times Internship – Washington DC Bureau (2012)
- Agent/Owner of Allstate: Houston Insurance Agency, Statesville
- Rotary Club of Statesville member
- Statesville Greater Chamber of Commerce member
Houston plans for focus his candidacy around five major components: transparency in politics, development of the city, the loosening of regulations and restrictions for private property owners, lowering utility rates, and bringing a faster internet service provider to Statesville.
Politics on the federal, state and local level seem to always promise transparency. However, for Houston, the promises remain largely unfulfilled.
“On a local level, I think it is extremely important that the residents of the city play a role in shaping the future of the city, along with day to day management of the city,” Houston said.
Houston spoke of the lack of resident participation and felt that this issue could be fixed by city officials asking for input in “a timely and visible manner,” by sharing information with the public in advance and allowing for a convenient method of input form citizens.
Additionally, Houston feels that residents should be able to actively see the debate process between city council members. City Council meetings are live broadcasted on Government Cable Channel 20, but Houston seems to be pushing for a broader reach of residents and not just those with cable television.
Houston also supports transparency to “encourage respectful discourse and debate between city council members,” as he refers to the recent altercation between two City Councilmen in a closed door meeting.
“Perhaps the altercation could have been avoided entirely if the doors had been open to the public,”he said.
Houston also feels that more economic development projects should be discussed in front of the public, so as not to “open the door for favoritism and corruption.”
According to a N.C. open meetings law, a public body is authorized to meet in closed session for any of nine specific reasons: discussion of confidential records, attorney consultations, economic development, the purchase of a real property, negotiation of employment contracts, qualifications, performance, etc. of public employees, and criminal investigations.
Houston feels that “there are far too many decisions made in secrecy or that provide limited information to the citizens.”
Development of the City
“Statesville appears to be 20 to 30 years behind in economic growth,” Houston said. His plan for the development of Statesville includes the development and revitalization of Shelton Avenue, “a gateway from Troutman.”
“The city needs to work to make sure there is visually appealing development and revitalization in that area,” Houston said. “It is an absolute disgrace entering a major connecting road from Troutman or even I-77 from Exit 49A to see the disrepair.”
Campaign plans for the revitalization of the South Side also focus specifically on the reason for its “disrepair,” which according to Houston, is “an ever-increasing crime rate.”
“The major issue preventing growth is the crime rate,” Houston said, “which has plagued this area for decades.”
Houston has plans to create a task force between the City Council, Statesville residents and the Statesville Police Department to “initiate a cleanup of crime in South Statesville.” He explains that the increased crime rate is the reason that several developments have left the area, including Food Lion and Habitat for Humanity.
Houston also speaks of establishing pride and ownership in property owners in the area, by encouraging landlords to play a crucial role in addressing the illegal activities that “plague the community.” This sense of pride can also be accomplished by enforcing local ordinances on owners of property in disrepair.
Houston urges the community and City Council to work together to upgrade and rebuild, as well as push for new housing and economic development in these areas. He also feels that city money should be focused on stimulating growth and providing improvements to not just the Shelton Avenue area, but also on Highway 115, East Broad Street, and Garner Bagnal Boulevard.
Loosen Regulations and Restrictions on Private Property
Having worked in the insurance industry for a few years, Houston has heard many complaints from both business and home owners, who complain about the difficulty of performing simple home improvements to their property.
“While I understand the value of preserving the historical district, there needs to be a balance between the city’s attempts to preserve historic structures and the property rights of the owner,” Houston said. “Loosening restrictions and regulations would allow for property owners to make improvements to their property in a timely manner, as well as help them save money on those improvements with more potential options for modern upgrades.”
Houston also suggests a faster track for zoning decisions about vacant industrial sites to enhance the development and repurpose of these locations.
Utility and Service Rates
Houston offered several options to address increased city utility rates, and other miscellaneous service rates, while also considering options to bring down the cost.
“Rising utility costs are an issue for many cities across the country,” Houston said. “We should commission a task force to address the issue of increasing utility costs or look to (other) cities, who have already (addressed) the issue.”
Houston’s proposed ideas to bring down utility rates include:
- Enhancing current advanced payment polices for new and current customers in order to build greater financial stability
- Costs of new services should be recovered from new development projects. Existing customers should not fund the extension of service to new developments. Development charges should be structured so as not to discourage redevelopment and should also ensure that Statesville is competitive with surrounding communities;
- Use non-rate revenue (e.g. late fees) for low-income customer assistance, such as community gardens, water efficiency and other programs that bring value to the community. Non-rate revenue not spent on these programs annually can be used for rate relief for all customers.
An envisioned plan of action for utility rates includes reducing costs, ensuring affordability and allowing rates to be competitive with surrounding communities. Houston says this plan should focus on:
- Rehabilitating or replacing existing the infrastructure;
- Having a desirability to achieve the greatest environmental health benefit relative to the spend;
- Examine and addressing multiple city infrastructure needs;
- Evaluating the use of smart technologies to reduce costs and find efficiencies; and
- Emphasizing the utilization of green solutions, both public and private.
Houston also added that the best way to bring down costs in a free marketplace is to “increase competition.” According to Houston, the city should consider allowing more than one company to provide utility services to the community where possible.
Internet Service Provider Options
Perhaps one of Houston’s most interesting and unique campaign plans is the desire to bring a faster internet service provider (ISP) to Statesville.
“Statesville does not simply need jobs; Statesville needs quality career jobs that pay living wages to the residents of this city,” Houston said. “The technology sector is one of the fastest-growing job sectors in the economy, and we need to attract big technology companies and startups to Statesville.”
Houston explains that the best way to do so is to “have an infrastructure in place that makes our city an attractive landing spot.”
He goes on to explain that internet speeds available in Statesville are not that fast, and are not available at all in some areas. Those lower internet speeds are costly compared to what is available in other cities. Google Fiber, named fastest ISP of 2017 in the U.S., comes to mind as Houston names faster internet service providers that cities have utilized for a reasonable cost to its residents.
“In those cities, (the reasonably-priced faster ISP) drives down the cost of the lower-speed alternatives, thereby saving customers money on their monthly utility costs,” Houston said, as he refers to the current duopoly of AT&T and Spectrum. “So simply offering a third ISP option in the city would make Statesville an attractive location for technology companies that have high bandwidth and internet speed needs. It would also potentially save Statesville residents money.”