Baltimore, MD -- Another nearly 10% water and sewer rate increase goes into effect today. This rate increase is the second installment of the three-year, 30 percent rate increase approved by the Board of Estimates on January 9th, 2019. It was originally scheduled to go into effect on July 1st of this year, but Mayor Young pushed back the increase, citing the financial crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and offering the delay as a relief.
“Allowing this rate increase to go into effect in the midst of a public health and financial crisis, without conducting a thorough audit of the system to see if it is even needed, is a failure of leadership,” said Rianna Eckel, Senior Maryland Organizer with Food & Water Watch. “Access to affordable water is imperative right now so that all Baltimoreans can follow public health guidelines with ease, but instead Mayor Young has seriously delayed real affordability and allowed a rate increase.”
The Baltimore Right to Water Coalition delivered a letter signed by 35 advocacy organizations, faith leaders, and unions, to the Mayor and the Board of Estimates on September 10th, requesting that they further delay this water rate increase until a thorough audit of the billing system and a detailed rate study can be provided, and until our health and economic crisis has ended.
“Families in our city need relief and assistance, not higher bills,” said State Senator Mary Washington, 43rd District. “Water bills were already unaffordable for too many before the COVID-19 pandemic and financial crisis. This rate increase, compounded with lost jobs and wages, and the lack of a true water affordability program will further burden families who are simply struggling to survive. Baltimoreans deserve better.”
Mayor Young, then-Council President, and Comptroller Pratt voted against this three-year, 30 percent rate increase when it was before the Board of Estimates in 2019, citing the harm that it would cause to Baltimoreans and the lack of data to prove its necessity. Additionally, in January, dozens of businesses, including the Ritz Carlton, reported that they were not being billed for water service. This uncollected revenue may negate the need for additional increases for households. DPW has launched a narrow audit of unbilled accounts, but a full audit has not been initiated.
“At a time when households are already struggling to pay their mortgage or rent and other bills, a further water and sewer rate increase will push more families out of their homes and into homelessness,” said Karen Wabeke, Senior Attorney with the Homeless Persons Representation Project. “The pandemic highlights what we know to be true - that access to clean and affordable water is a human right. We join our partners in calling on Mayor Young and the Board of Estimates to delay the rate increase so that households can prevent the spread of the virus by staying in their homes and washing their hands.”
Effective today, the typical household using 6 units of water a month will have an annual water and sewer bill of $1,174. Based on Roger Colton’s 2017 study, Baltimore’s Conundrum: Charging for Water / Wastewater Services that Community Residents Cannot Afford to Pay, of Baltimore’s 198 Census Tracts, only 79 of these (39.9%) will have affordable bills at each Tract’s median income in 2020, meaning that water bills are unaffordable at the average income level in 60% of Baltimore’s Census Tracts.
“Access to safe, affordable drinking water is a human right, and a basic necessity,” said Molly Amster, Baltimore Director with Jews United for Justice. “This rate increase will make keeping up with bills even harder for families in Baltimore. Mayor Young opposed this rate increase when he voted on it as City Council President, and delayed it due to the impacts of the COVID-19 virus months ago. In both instances, he stated he knew the negative effects it would have on low income households and yet he is going forward anyway””
Compounding the problem, In July, Mayor Young issued an executive order delaying the implementation of the Water Accountability & Equity Act until at least 30 days after the state of emergency has ended, effectively kicking the legislation to the next administration. The Water Accountability & Equity Act would create a meaningful water affordability program that will be more accessible to renters. Under the current H2O Assists discount program, renters can only enroll if they are made the account holder on the water bill, a huge barrier for many of the 53% of Baltimoreans who are renters. By blocking tenants’ protections under the WAEA, Mayor Young’s executive order risks increasing the number of evictions brought by landlords to collect unpaid water bills. Higher, less affordable water bills put tenants at even greater risk of eviction at a time when it is estimated that more than 350,000 Maryland households are at risk of eviction in the next four months.
Contact: Rianna Eckel - reckel[at]fwwatch[dot]org