Tenants brace for rate shock

Public housing residents to pay electric bills

August 11, 2006|By NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON | NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON,SUN REPORTER

Hoping to prepare tenants for the change from not paying for electricity to paying some of the bill, the Housing Authority of Annapolis has pushed back the starting date for the shift a month to Oct. 1.

The authority, which oversees 10 public housing communities, is holding meetings this month to inform residents about how they will be billed and how they can conserve energy.

Trudy McFall, chairwoman of the authority's board of commissioners, said yesterday that some residents had heard only rumblings about the impending change.

"It's going to cause a hardship. There are no winners in this situation," McFall said. "We're going to have to share the pain, and it's going to be difficult. For our residents it's a very serious time."

The authority has been struggling to repay its $454,000 debt to BGE as rates increase and federal funding was cut. Last year, the Department of Housing and Urban Development stopped giving the housing authority "make-up" payments to cover any shortfall between federal electricity allotments and the housing authority's bill.

Meanwhile, BGE rates increased last month by 15 percent for about 1 million customers in the region.

Currently, residents do not pay for their utility use; the authority picks up the tab. The bill from May 2005 to April 2006 was $742,000 for electricity and $918,000 for gas.

A study prepared for the authority by TA Engineering, a Baltimore-based company, recommended "utility allotments" based on apartment size, demographics of the residents, and HUD guidelines. Utility allowances will cover major and minor appliances, but not air conditioning.

Residents will pay for any use beyond their allotments directly to BGE or the housing authority, depending on what property they live in and whether their unit is metered.

Exactly how much residents will have to pay remains uncertain. Initial estimates for Harbour House range from about $36 for a one-bedroom apartment to $56 for a three-bedroom. Rent currently ranges from $50 to about $650 a month, depending on household income.

For now, many are bracing themselves for the additional expense.

"I would have to knock out something else to pay it, cut back on groceries, laundry, cut back on something," said Norma Nutter, who lives in Harbour House. "We have to pay or we have to move, so we're stuck."nia.henderson@baltsun.com

The next meeting on the utility issue will be held at 6 p.m. Aug. 17 at the Robinwood Community Center.

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