28 April 2010

Are Houston Apartment Dwellers Getting the (Water) Shaft?

CultureMap Houston

Calling "halfsies" isn't always such a good deal. For people living in apartments in Houston, it looks like there will be a 50-percent increase in water rates for those who call multi-unit digs home. The hike stands in sharp contrast to the projected slight increase of 12 percent for single-family customers.

According to City Councilman Ed Gonzalez, the jump is the result of a $100 million deficit in the city's water and sewage budget, and renters are going to have to pay. Andy Icken, deputy director of Houston Public Works Department has suggested that research states that single-family homes conserve more water than multi-family units.

"They have a big study that hasn't been released yet," Houston Apartment Association (HAA) executive vice president Jeff Hall told CultureMap. "There's an executive summary from their consulting firm, but that doesn't tell much." Icken did not respond to phone calls inquiring about the research.

HAA feels the increase unfairly punishes apartment renters, many of whom cannot afford to take on a ballooning bill. Hall argues that apartments are cheaper for the city to maintain, and that the cost is lower to provide water and sewage utilities to an apartment complex than to an equal number of single family homes.

This isn't the first proposed infrastructure change under new mayor Annise Parker, who has questioned the financing of  two Metro light rail lines and overseen the weekend closure of neighborhood libraries —  making residents wonder if basic city amenities are going down the drain. Parker has been frank in saying how the city's current budget crisis is going to cause hard cuts and tough times for Houstonians. Rather than try to sugarcoat the projected $140 million budget shortfall with a typical politician's sweet talk, Parker said, "The pressure is going to be immense" in her first state of the city address on April 8.

Hall argues that putting an extra burden on apartment renters is not the way to go to meet shortfalls. When asked if this method has been tried in other cities, Hall responded, "No, we're dealing with a local issue here."

City Council is set to announce a final, revised proposal next week. Until then, foreclosed McMansions are looking more and more practical.

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