‘Visible address’ fine is harmful

The McAllen City Commission recently approved a city ordinance that imposes a $50 fine on anyone who doesn’t have a visible address outside their home. The requirement was already in place; only the fine is new.

Whom will the new fine provision affect? While there are a variety of reasons why someone may not have the address on display outside a home, the ordinance’s punitive effect undoubtedly will hurt McAllen’s lowest-income residents the most.

In a city with one of the highest poverty rates nationwide hovering around 30%, for some families a $50 fine is more than a full day’s wages. Making changes to comply with the ordinance by buying numbers of the correct size (the law requires numbers be at least 4 inches in height) or hiring someone to paint or install them also costs time and money.

No one should have to choose between buying groceries and paying a city fine. In a community already facing great economic hardship, the new fine provision of the ordinance seems like a penalty for being poor.

The fine is also harmful because McAllen already jails people for warrants on fine-only offenses. In 2013, McAllen held more than 2,000 people in the McAllen city jail for such offenses. And this isn’t just a problem in McAllen. Many cities throughout the state and country do this and are met with scrutiny for it.

The city claims that the purpose of the ordinance is to ensure that everyone is counted in the 2020 Census, which is certainly a laudable objective. But if the visible address requirement was already in place, why did the city add the fine for noncompliance? If city officials have had trouble locating street addresses — whether during emergency situations or collecting data for the Census — it should at least provide the remedy instead of placing an additional burden on its residents.

There are a number of measures the city could have opted for before imposing a punitive fine on McAllen’s poorest residents. Instead of sending fine notices, the city could mail adhesive numbers to residents with instructions on where to place them. Or organize high school and college students to volunteer on weekends or during the summer — great project for the McAllen Boys & Girls Club! — to paint the addresses or place numbers on homes that lack a visible address.

The city could also partially or fully subsidize the cost or placing visible addresses for low-income residents. If the city wants people to comply with the visibility requirement, these would be more effective ways to promote compliance rather than slapping fines on people or calling them into court, which could lead to their arrest.

While a $50 fine might seem like a mere inconvenience to most of us, the fine is inappropriate for McAllen. The city should provide its residents with resources to thrive, not impose unnecessary punitive fines.

Before writing this, the Texas Civil Rights Project reached out to Mayor Darling’s office to discuss our concerns regarding the fine, and we were told a meeting wasn’t necessary. Fortunately, the City Commission has the power to repeal this dangerous fine.

Ricky Garza, Fellow/staff attorney at Texas Civil Rights Project

Alamo


City should close downtown district

This is in regard to the McAllen downtown entertainment district fatal auto-pedestrian accident. Seeing the growing number of fatal auto accidents, DWI arrests, public intoxication arrests, lewdness and assaults in the McAllen downtown bar district, its time the city of McAllen shuts it down before one more life is lost due to senseless and reckless behavior.

The city of McAllen doesn’t need to use its financial resources for babysitting people who don’t know how to behave or drink responsibly.

If the city really wants to promote itself as the “safest city,” then let’s focus on providing our residents a good quality of life that we demand and deserve by attracting employers and new jobs along with other basic services, not more bars.

Rafael Guzman, McAllen

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