Houston City Council voted unanimously to enact a one-time forgiveness program for residents whose water bills were inflated due to Hurricane Harvey.
After thousands of residents were reportedly sent bills that, in some cases, doubled their typical amount, the council voted to allow residents to pay an amount equal to their monthly average bill.
Houston’s Public Works Department found more than 6,300 residential accounts and at least ten commercial and industrial accounts received water bills that were twice their average amount.
Department spokesperson Alanna Reed told the Houston Chronicle the vast majority of those who received higher bills had their homes and businesses flooded out due to the storm.
The measure adapts an existing rule regarding disputes between homeowners and the city regarding water bills. The existing rule states if neither the homeowner nor the city can find a reason behind a high water bill, the city can issue a one-time forgiveness statement and bill the homeowner for 50 percent above the monthly average for their account.
The new measure removes the 50 percent surcharge and limits the bill to the monthly average amount for account holders affected by Harvey. More than 80 percent of the cases involving higher water bills during Harvey have no sufficient explanation.
Political leaders on both sides agreed the effort to forgive the overages was the best move.
Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner called the measure “a workable, pragmatic solution.”
“A systematic, one-time adjustment is clearly in need,” said City Council Member Mike Laster. “I’m grateful that the Public Works department has recognized that and is moving forward to adjust its billing authority appropriately.”
“We’re finally getting common sense back into city government,” said City Council Member Jack Christie prior to the vote.
Residents who can show they sustained flood damage and filed a private insurance claim or filed a FEMA claim after Nov. 30 can qualify for the forgiveness program.
Applicants must file to receive the bill forgiveness within 90 days.