Recently, the City Of Baltimore announced that a new three-year plan was being considered that would raise water bills by about 33%. In addition to this spike in water bills, two new fees would be introduced, an account management fee and a infrastructure fee. The account management fee would be a set amount while the infrastructure fee would depend on the amount of usage per meter. The new plan is meant to help improve Baltimore’s infrastructure as well as to help stabilize their billing system. Unfortunately, the proposal has passed and is in the process of being set into motion now.
Beth Benner, our Executive Director at WHC, attended the city council hearing to object to this increase. The cause for protest was because of the undue pressure that the water bill increase will cause on Baltimore’s most vulnerable population, those who already cannot afford their water bills to begin with.
Along with this, the water bill increase will directly affect Women’s Housing Coalition. Each of our residents are given housing to live in, but are often responsible for paying for their utilities by themselves, which includes water. This allowance will likely not increase in step with the City’s increases. The water bill increases will directly impact their ability to be able to pay for their utilities and could lessen their ability to maintain housing in our program. Allowances under HUD for services such as utilities are extremely inadequate to support our vulnerable population already, so there is no telling how deeply impacted our citizens will be after this change goes through. In addition, supports available to low and very low income are underfunded and typically are exhausted early each year leaving residents without support if they get into financial trouble even if they quality for such support.
Since this increase has passed, we will see either one of two situations occur, both of which are unacceptable and go against Baltimore’s goal of “Making Homelessness Rare And Brief.” The first scenario is that organizations such as ours will absorb the costs of the increase and be able to do substantially less for the people that we help. The second scenario is that residents like ours will not be able to pay their bills and they get evicted. Both scenarios are neither right nor acceptable.
Our mission at Women’s Housing Coalition is to stop the cycle of homelessness and this increase would be yet another burden that our residents have to face in the process of working toward housing stability. Homelessness is a serious problem in Baltimore and increasing the financial burden that our community has to face will regress all of the work we’ve already accomplished in our city to reduce homelessness once and for all.