Friday, February 8, 2008

Shocking Electric Bills

Shocking Electric Bills
by Beauty Turner, Assistant Editor

Many Robert Taylor residents are suddenly finding themselves facing extremely high electric bills, bills in the $10,000 range and higher that can make them non-lease compliant and ineligible for replacement housing.

CHA is going through a $1.6 billion Plan for Transformation that states if a resident is found non-lease compliant, they may not be relocated to another development, a scattered site unit or the same development or receive a Housing Choice Voucher (formerly known as Section 8).

A tenant can be found non-lease compliant if a tenant's utilities are not paid up. One young single mother of three, Lithia Henderson, said, "My electric bills are sky high. How do they expect for me to pay this $11,000 light bill?"

Henderson, 24, said she has no idea how her bill was computed. "I'm low-income. I live in the development, not a luxury mansion," she said.

Another young resident said, "How do they even estimate my bills? I haven't had a meter for years. "How could they let us not pay for service all this time?

And now, all of a sudden, it's our fault that they didn't collect or turn off the lights, or warn us.
This is not fair. Shouldn't Commonwealth Edison carry the biggest of the blame?"

Many people in the private market couldn't get away with that, another Robert Taylor resident said.

I called CHA spokesperson Derek Hill and asked him about the high electric bills. He was in shock and said he would investigate. Hill was under the impression that CHA paid the electric bills for Robert Taylor. Hill later found out that what I told him about the bills being very high was the truth. He said, "This needs to be looked into."

After speaking to Hill, I decided to call Commonwealth Edison and speak to an executive. I spoke to Tim Lindberg, head of communications for Commonwealth Edison. I asked him, "How long does it take Commonwealth Edison to send out a warning notice when a client is late with their bills?" He replied, "The Illinois Commerce Commission requires a 10-day notice and three days after that, we follow up with a telephone call."

I next asked why do the residents in the Robert Taylor development have such high light bills? He hesitated for a moment and then said, "We can't issue a general statement concerning that because with each client, the explanation varies. "But I can say if a person in the private market or in public housing feels that their light bills are too high, don't do anything at first. Just call us.

"We also have programs to help low-income residents such as (LHEAP) Light Heat Energy Assistance Program." I recently did a cable show with the manager of external affairs for Commonwealth Edison, Todd Banks. Banks, who was surprised by the showing of a low-income public housing resident's electric bill
of $10,934.40, showed great concern.

I asked what he thought that young lady might have done in her apartment that would create a bill of that size.
He replied, "I don't know. But we will investigate it."

A day after the show, a Commonwealth Edison truck was in front of my building, 4525 S. Federal St. Comed workers turned off four families' lights. One of those residents who lost their electric service was a young woman named Katrina Nawls, who has a new-born baby girl in her apartment.

I called Banks to see why they turned off the people's lights. He replied, "They each owe high light bills. They need to call us and set up a payment plan."

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