Local Hen Movement Takes New Legislation To City Council

Last August we spoke to a movement working on making it legal to keep chickens in Houston's backyards. Currently the ordinance says it's illegal to have hens within 100 feet of an adjacent building. "Hens for Houston" has since been trying to change this by educating as many people as possible about its mission and about keeping chickens. Recently, the next step was facing Houston City Council and it was a session unlike any other.

Claire Krebs the founder of Hens for Houston showed up to speak at the city’s public comment session in a bright green t-shirt with a chicken on the front. She waited patiently while the nine speakers ahead of her were called to the podium.

Then it was Krebs turn.

“Good afternoon City Council, Mayor Parker. My name is Claire Krebs … ”

In her three minutes of allotted time, Krebs laid out her plan to change the city’s 1948 law that enforced the 100 foot rule. City Council greeted Krebs with mixed reaction, starting with Mayor Annise Parker.

“I actually agree with you. I’d be happy to support an ordinance change. I do have a draft ordinance in process. I however am only one vote on council.”

Next to weigh in was Council Member James Rodriguez, who represents Houston’s East End.

“Hopefully when it comes back my committee, it will be fully hatched ... ba-tum-um. See I am funny sometimes.”

Mayor Parker: “Yeah that was really good.”

And that’s when the silliness of talking about chickens at City Council set in. Council Member Mike Laster from an area which includes Sharpstown followed Rodriguez.

“In too many of our neighborhoods, I think we’ll have fewer Martha Stewart experiences and more Honey Boo Boo experiences in this regard, so I’d keep a broad mind and engage the full community in this discussion.”

On the more serious side, Council Member Laster has had plenty of animal complaints from his constituents.

“We’re not getting phone calls asking for additional barnyard animals in backyards. In fact we’re getting phone calls asking why the city has taken so long to remove those that are there. We removed feral pigs from the backyards of some homes this year.”

The majority of council, particularly the Mayor though found it hard to keep a straight face on this topic.

“Council Member Rodriguez, I’m so sorry.”

Council Member Rodriguez: “I started off, I’ve been on a roll and I asked the mayor earlier if she’d given me this assignment because I was a lame duck, but it’s an important, serious issue. Thank y’all all for being here.”

The mayor was grateful for an afternoon’s light relief.

The upshot for Krebs was that they spent over 30 minutes, with three time extensions speaking about an issue close to her heart. Thirteen members out of sixteen weighed in, seven mostly for and six against or with some stipulations.

The next step is the city’s Bureau for Animal Control finalizing new ordinance wording by February 15th.

If Hens for Houston is happy with the altered ordinance, then it will be presented to stakeholders before it comes back to the council table for final vote and perhaps a few more chicken puns might be laid before it’s fully cooked.

Bio photo of Edel Howlin

Edel Howlin

Producer, Houston Matters

Edel is a producer on Houston Matters and reporter for PBS’s Newshour Weekend...