Houston families hammered with inexplicably high water bills as mayor's office delays plan

Shannon Ryan Image
Wednesday, January 31, 2024
Houston family billed nearly 10 times what they usually pay for water
A Denver Harbor family was charged $1,380 for water for just a month. The high bill comes as the Houston mayor's office delays a price-correction plan.

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- Denver Harbor resident Brandon Mora's last water bill from the City of Houston was $1,379.98. His family typically pays around $150.

"Something like this, it's way too much for the average family. Way too much," Mora said.

The bill indicated his family's water may be shut off if he can't pay the bill in full, but Mora said he couldn't swing it. He lives with his uncle, mother, and sister. He works at a car wash and pools money with his sister to pay monthly bills.

In March 2023, the family's bill indicated they used 17,000 gallons of water. Their bills shared with ABC13 show they typically use 6,000 to 9,000 gallons per month. The March bill was more than $600. In June, the meter read 18,000 gallons. The family struggled to make the high payments, accruing fees.

In July, Mora sent a message to Houston Public Works on X, formerly known as Twitter. It read in part, "According to a recent report to 311, the Itron device of the meter had been disconnected from the meter itself and is no longer attached. The account holder (Mora's mother) called it in, and they said they will come and reattach the device, but they never came to replace the device."

SEE ALSO: Lowering of high-water bills in Houston could be resolved after new plans announced by officials

The family is unsure of the exact dates, and Houston Public Works was unable to share information before the deadline, citing privacy concerns, but told ABC13 Houston Public Works came to their home and replaced the meter. They showed ABC13 the previous meter. It was in poor condition with frayed wires. They were told rodents had destroyed it. Mora said they were also told Houston Public Works could not get accurate readings of water usage because the meter was destroyed.

Despite the physical fix, Mora said no adjustments were made to the family's bills. They continued accruing fees, with their monthly bills topping $1,000.

In October, their bill dropped back down to $108. A hold was placed on the previous balance. The family said Houston Public Works told them it was investigating the matter. The hold expired in November, and the family said they were given no explanation.

"Once Customer Account Services receives a high bill inquiry on an account, it goes under Administrative Review. During this time, fees are not incurred. Most importantly, service will NOT be shut off when an account is in Administrative Review," Houston Public Works told ABC13.

Because the review period was lifted for the Mora family, they are not receiving those exceptions.

Houston Mayor John Whitmire had promised to unveil a plan to fix the city's floundering water bill system at Houston City Council on Wednesday. However, a city spokesperson told ABC13 on Tuesday that the launch was no longer happening.

When ABC13 asked about the delay, the mayor's office responded, "The plan is not 'delayed.' There was never a deadline. Mayor Whitmire is committed to providing relief to Houstonians experiencing high water bills. His plan is comprehensive, and he wants time to review it internally and brief city council members who may have questions before unveiling it to the public. His administration plans to get it right rather than feel rushed."

In December, the council unveiled a different nine-point plan that promised to fix the city's water bill issues.

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