An alternative (and award-winning) graffiti-abatement program

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We all know how Houston has decided to handle graffiti — punish property owners who are the victims of taggers. Another way of dealing with the problem is exhibited by the Greater East End Management District:

Hansen said the district started the program in the fall of 2000 after hearing about a similar program in Cincinnati, Ohio.

“They had graffiti mobile so we bought a second-hand truck and got started,” she said.

Since it began, the graffiti abatement program has gone from sending out the truck five days a week to now using it only one or 1 1/2 days a week.

“We hardly have any graffiti in the East End now,” Hansen said. “If we do, we get rid of it within days.”

Martin Chavez, the district constituent services manager, supervises the program, which employs one full-time painter and uses Harris County probationers sentenced to community service to help in cleaning up the graffiti.

After sites are identified, usually by call-ins from law enforcement officials or community members, Chavez’s team seeks permission from the property owners to paint over the affected sites.

He said some owners are skeptical when he calls them and lets them know he wants to help them with their graffiti problem.

“This is a free program to all commercial property owners,” Chavez said. “Some of them can’t believe someone would come out and do this for free.”

It has worked out so well, the district recently won an award:

With more than 3,800 graffiti sites now a memory because of the district’s efforts, the organization was recently awarded a Quality of Life Visionary Award from the Greater Houston Partnership.

“We’re very excited because we had no idea (we were nominated),” said Mary Margaret Hansen, president of the Greater East End Management District.

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Anne Linehan is a co-founder of blogHOUSTON.