By Christina Hershey and Bryan Mason
Baltimore Watchdog Staff Writers
City residents could get some relief from high water and sewer bills under legislation introduced Monday at the Baltimore City Council.
The Water Accountability and Equity Act would establish an income-based water affordability program for low-income residents. Called the “Water-For-All-Discount Program,” it would base water and sewer rates on the income of the customer.
In addition, the ordinance would create an Office of Water Customer Advocate who would help customers resolve billing disputes before they lost service.
Council President Bernard C. “Jack” Young said in a statement before the meeting that the ordinance is particularly urgent because of a 30-percent water rate hike that is projected over the next three years.
“It’s my job to make sure every single Baltimorean has access to safe and affordable water, but to also make sure they have city departments accountable to the public,” Young said during the meeting.
Young said that an independent study conducted in 2017 by consultant Roger Colton found that water bills in Baltimore would be unaffordable for more than half of city residents by 2019 unless legislation like this were to pass.
Colton’s report said that the typical bill in Baltimore has increased by 127 percent since 2010, and those rates are expected to increase sharply into the foreseeable future. The report said that under current conditions, the typical residential bill will reach $1,114 a year by 2022, more than triple the typical bill in 2010.
The advocacy group Food and Water Watch recently estimated that the typical Baltimore residential household paid $898 for water and sewer service in 2017. The group projects that those bills will increase to $1,284 by July 1, 2021 and $1,819 by 2028. The figures came the city Department of Public Works, the group said.
The bill says that if a resident’s household income is 50 percent of the federal poverty line, the household’s water bill would equal 1 percent of household income. The rates would be reduced to 2 percent of a household’s income if the household earned up to 100 percent of the poverty line.
In other action, the council introduced a bill that would add protections to people who receive income from government programs like low-income housing assistance to already existing anti-housing discrimination regulations.
Under current regulations, it is unlawful to refuse to sell or rent property to people based on their race, color, religion, national origin, sex, age, marital status or physical or mental disability.
The bill introduced Monday would expand the protection to those who receive government or private assistance.
“Our city remains badly segregated by race and class,” Councilman Robert Stokes Sr. said. “We must take every step possible to tear down barriers to high quality housing opportunity for all.”