Address ordinance concerns expressed by rights group

McALLEN — City commissioners here voted last month to require clearly visible address numerals on all existing and new buildings in hopes of increasing efficiency for police and fire responses.

“It’s really easy to do it and it literally could save your life some day,” McAllen Mayor Jim Darling said at that June meeting, where commissioners voted unanimously to approve the ordinance. A benefit to the new ordinance, city officials said, is that it would help with the 2020 U.S. Census count.

But at Monday’s city commission meeting, local attorney Ricky Garza — joined at City Hall by his coworkers at the Texas Civil Rights Project in Alamo — raised concerns about the slippery slope the new ordinance presents to low-income residents and possible complications it could lead to during the Census count.

“We would really like to see instead some resources diverted to ensure low-income people, and especially people that don’t have those numbers painted on their houses, are able to get the numbers posted in a way that would not lead to a fine,” Garza said, adding that a fine could lead to a missed payment, which could send a resident without the financial stability or means to obtain the street numbers to municipal court.

McAllen City Manager Roel “Roy” Rodriguez disagreed with the premise of Garza’s argument.

“That sector of the community is always top of mind for us,” Rodriguez said in an interview this week, adding that it costs a few dollars to buy the numbers to install.

“It’s a non-existing problem,” Rodriguez said.

As for the census count?

“That wasn’t why we did this,” Rodriguez said. “This was for public safety. But to us, it’s an additional benefit for the census folks.”

Garza said his office just wants to make sure that every sector of McAllen is counted, “especially in Districts 4 and 5, and places where we know there are still low-income residents in the city.”

“I know not everyone in our city is low income, but still we are one of the poorest communities in the state,” Garza said. “I just want make sure this fine is not accidentally, inadvertently harming people who are supposed to be helped by the census count.”