Outrageous water bills in New Holly

Aug. 24, 2011 By Sandra VanderVen


New Holly, Wash.—Recently, Dionna Fry of Working Washington was talking with residents of New Holly, when she unexpectedly got an earful.

They told her jobs are scarcer than ever. School bus routes have been cut for all kids who live within a mile of the school, even elementary.

Imagine how a working person without a car can provide transportation for a kindergartener when the school is a mile away?

But the biggest issueWater faucet dripping on their minds by far is one of the most precious resources we often take for granted:  water.

The Seattle Housing Authority recognizes that people in low income housing struggle with water bills, so the plan is to ask residents who qualify for help to pay about 30 to 40 percent of their bill.

It turns out that this is not happening. Rather than paying for only a third of their bill, residents are paying about 75 percent of the total cost—which makes water worth its weight in gold, relatively.

It gets worse for New Holly residents like Beverly Riley, who has lived in the neighborhood for 35 years, at one time with three daughters. Riley said her ex-husband refused to pay child support in her early days of living there, but the water bills are harder to manage than those tight budget days.

“Now my water bill runs up to $150 every two months,” said Riley, 78. “I don’t use that much. I have arthritis and I have to get in the tub and soak.”

Recently, her water bill came in at $249. It turned out that her toilet had a silent leak.  The housing authority let her pay the bill over two months—but that didn’t reduce the bill. She paid for the extra cost—and for fixing the toilet—with the $725 per month she receives from Social Security.

The reason many bills are high is there is a large amount of water pressure entering that neighborhood.

Generally, it is easy to regulate the amount of pressure entering a home when it is an average amount. This is important because high water pressure in a house is like high blood pressure in a human—it wears out the plumbing.

But that isn’t being addressed in New Holly, and instead, leaks are springing up. When the residents can’t find the leak, they have to pay the price.

New Holly residents have had a series of meetings with the Seattle Housing Authority to discuss this. The representatives of the Housing Authority claim residents use too much water.

Riley speaks to this issue too. “I know some people abused it by watering their gardens and filling little wading pools,” she said.

Hearing her say this is painful, when having a garden and giving the kids a way to cool off in the summer looks to some like a stolen luxury, while much of the water they are paying for is going down the drain from a leaky system they have no control over.

If society is judged by how we treat the most vulnerable, how are we doing in New Holly?