The Baltimore City Council passed the Water Accountability and Equity Act on November 18, 2019. This bill provides an income-based affordability program for low-income customers, a standardized dispute process for all customers, and new rights for tenants who had previously been shut out of assistance programs. The bill is a huge victory for Baltimore City’s residents and water customers.
MVLS has been advocating for the passage of this bill for over three years, as it will advance the rights of many of our clients. MVLS staff participated in the Baltimore Right to Water Coalition, which helped to write the initial legislation. Prior to the bill’s introduction, the Coalition worked to educate City Council members about the experiences of low-income clients in the City and their difficulties accessing water. They also answered many questions and provided feedback during this time. MVLS staff was asked to testify before the City Council and advised on edits to the legislation.
MVLS has expanded our role in the past few years to welcome opportunities that will have further impact for our clients. This has included removing water bills from tax sale in Baltimore City, obtaining filing fee waivers in probate cases, and reducing the statute of limitations for residential leases from twelve years to three years. MVLS has sought to reduce homeowners losing their homes to tax sale because of a delinquent water bill or property tax, and this new water legislation came on the heels of the removal of water bills from tax sale this year. While we’re thrilled that water bills will no longer place someone into tax sale, we will continue to assist those at risk of losing their homes to delinquent property taxes.
This water legislation will not cause anyone’s water bill to increase any more than the previously approved increases set by the Board of Estimates. The bill is designed to help low-income City residents by making their bills more affordable in the long run. The program will be also more affordable for the Baltimore City government than the current program. An economist hired by the Right to Water Coalition found that the budget projections of this new program over five years were cheaper than the budget projections for the current program. Additionally, this program will increase water revenue because when people can afford their water bill, they are more likely to make the payments.
The implementation of the Water Accountability and Equity Act will not take place for another six months, and even after implementation, enrollment is not automatic; City residents will still have to apply. Application information is not available at this time.
If you or someone you know is currently seeking water assistance, please visit DPW’s website for more information on current programs.