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homeowners associations

Trash subsidy will not be trashed

From the inbox:

Mayor Sylvester Turner

Mayor Sylvester Turner

After weighing the budgetary impact and obtaining input from City Council, Mayor Sylvester Turner has decided not to pursue elimination of subsidies to homeowners associations that opt out of City trash collection services.

Under the program, which began in the 1970s, the City pays a monthly $6 per household subsidy to homeowners associations that contract for more expensive trash collection service from private haulers. Elimination of the subsidy was predicted to save the City $3.5 million annually, but only if the homeowners groups stuck with their private haulers.

“Many of the neighborhood associations have indicated they will request City collection if the subsidy is abandoned,” said Mayor Turner. “As a result, we are now looking at increased costs as opposed to the savings that had originally been anticipated. Therefore, it no longer makes sense to pursue this at this time. We can balance the budget without it.”

Elimination of the trash subsidy was one of several options put forth to help close a projected $160 million budget shortfall in Fiscal Year 2017, which begins July 1. City Council will consider the budget on May 25, a full month earlier than normal. Mayor Turner has requested early approval to send a strong message to the credit rating agencies about the attention the City’s fiscal challenges are getting from City Hall.

See here for the background. I was rooting for this to be killed, but if the numbers say it will cost more than it will save, then so be it. That doesn’t mean we can’t plan to phase it out over the next few years, however. I’d like to see that on the table going forward. The Chron story has more.

Kill that trash subsidy

Works for me.

Mayor Sylvester Turner

Mayor Sylvester Turner

Mayor Sylvester Turner, working to close a $160 million budget deficit, has proposed scrapping payments that scores of Houston neighborhoods served by private trash haulers receive to help offset the cost of their waste contracts.

The idea when the program started in the 1970s was that residents should not have to pay property taxes for city trash services they were not receiving – particularly because they were already paying for waste pickup in their homeowner association dues. The city also came out ahead because the $6 monthly per-house subsidy was cheaper than the cost of the city serving each home itself, now estimated at $18 per home per month.

In scraping together a balanced budget for the fiscal year that starts in July, however, Turner felt the program was expendable. In many cases, the subsidies go to residents who have chosen to pay for more extensive services than those the city provides, such as having the trash picked up more frequently than once a week, or having workers walk up a resident’s driveway to retrieve the trash rather than the homeowner rolling a bin to the curb.

Cutting these “sponsorship” payments to the 48,000 homes participating would save the city $3.5 million.

“When I drilled down in every department and every line item and I saw that line item sticking out, my question was, ‘Is this one that people can give up without hurting them and the core services, things that are essential to the city?'” Turner said. “I decided this was something the city at this particular point in time was not in a position to continue to sponsor.”

City Council will begin hearings on Turner’s proposed budget on Monday, leading up to a final vote that could come as early as May 25.

[…]

“If they end up saying it’s that big of a difference, that they will give up their contracts and will turn to the city, then yeah, OK, more than likely I’ll remove it,” Turner said. “I’m not trying to make their situation bad, I’m simply trying to balance a budget that’s $160 million short, and I’ve asked people to engage in shared sacrifice.”

The mayor also suggested, wearing a slight grin, that reporters examine the subdivisions now receiving trash subsidies.

The three City Council districts home to 83 percent of the city’s sponsorship agreements, records show, also are the three districts with the highest median household incomes in the city: District G on the west side, District E in Kingwood and Clear Lake, and District C, which covers much of the western half of the Inner Loop.

[CM Dave] Martin acknowledged that he and many of his neighbors receiving private trash service in District E can cover a $6-per-month increase in their civic association dues.

“If you’re used to getting your trash picked up twice a week and you’re used to backdoor service, most people are probably going to say, ‘Keep my six bucks,'” Martin said. “They’re mostly the people that have the means to pay an extra $6 a month.”

Yes indeed. And now is the time for the city to say to these folks that we can no longer afford to subsidize their premium trash collection service. We all have to make sacrifices in these lean times, don’t you know. The irony is that if enough people decide that the sacrifice they’d prefer to make is the higher level of service, in return for saving a few bucks a month, then it won’t be worth the city’s effort to make them make that sacrifice. I suspect that the vast majority of them will take the original deal, of keeping the service but paying full price for it. If nothing else, it will allow those who are so inclined to piss and moan about how hard they have it now. Surely that’s worth the six bucks a month to them. KUHF has more.

The $800 foreclosure

Welcome home, soldier.

Michael Clauer is a captain in the Army Reserve who commanded over 100 soldiers in Iraq. But while he was fighting for his country, a different kind of battle was brewing on the home front. Last September, Michael returned to Frisco, Texas, to find that his homeowners’ association had foreclosed on his $300,000 house—and sold it for $3,500. This story illustrates the type of legal quagmire that can get out of hand while soldiers are serving abroad and their families are dealing with the stress of their deployment. And fixing the mess isn’t easy.

Michael went on active duty in February 2008 and was sent to Iraq. After he shipped out, his wife May slipped into a deep depression, according to court documents. “A lot of people say that the deployment is more stressful on the spouse than the actual person who’s being deployed,” Michael, 37, says in an interview with Mother Jones. May Clauer had two kids to take care of—a ten-year-old and a one-year-old with a serious seizure-related disorder. In addition, she was worried sick about her husband. Michael’s company was doing convoy security in Iraq—an extremely dangerous job. “It was a pretty tough year for the whole company,” he says. “We had IEDs, rocket attacks and mortar attacks, and a few soldiers that were hurt pretty bad and had to be airlifted back to the States.”

Seeking to avoid hearing about the situation in Iraq, May stopped watching the news. She rarely answered the door, and Michael says he couldn’t tell her when he went “outside the wire”—off-base. May also stopped opening the mail. “I guess she was scared that she would hear bad news,” says Michael. That was why she missed multiple notices from the Heritage Lakes Homeowners Association informing her that the family owed $800 in dues—and then subsequent notices stating that the HOA was preparing to foreclose on the debt and seize the home.

The story was originally reported a couple of weeks earlier by WFAA. There are plenty of other examples of this sort of thing happening as well. As the story notes, there was legislation filed last year to prevent this sort of thing, but it didn’t make it through. (I’m pretty sure this is the bill in question; expect something like it to be filed next year as well.) In the meantime, the Clausers are attempting to get their home back via the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA), but it’s costing them a bunch of money; there’s a legal defense fund for them, with info at the bottom of the article if anyone is interested. Maybe this little bit of publicity will help shame their HOA into doing the right thing as well. Hopefully, the next Lege will be able to carry that bill across the finish line so this won’t happen again.