Residents Face Water Bill Shock

by Justin Rocket Silverman

Ballooning water and sewer rates could drench New Yorkers with hundreds of dollars in rent and maintenance-fee hikes during the next few years, observers warned Tuesday.

“There isn’t a co-op owner or apartment renter in the city who wouldn’t support halting these rate increases,” said Joshua Salon, vice president of the Salon Realty Corp.

“At least with electricity, there are other options besides Con Ed. But there is only one way to get water, and that is through the city. It’s not like you can go out and dig a well in your backyard.”

Water rates are slated to rise by 11.5 percent this year, and possibly by the same percent for each of the next three years.

If the average apartment in the city has an annual water bill of $623, by 2010 that bill may have gone up to about $900.

Landlords will pass on the increase to renters, and co-op boards will raise the monthly maintenance fee, Salon said.

He pointed to an 80-unit co-op building his company manages in the West Village. This year it paid $27,680 in water and sewer bills. With the proposed rate increase this year, the co-op will need to come up with an addition $3,000 annually.

The Department of Environmental Protection, which sets rates through its Water Board, defended the hike.

“The proposed water rate increase is set to strike a balance between the needs of maintaining the excellence of our system, and the finances of New Yorkers,” said Deputy Commissioner Anne Canty.

Canty also said the City Council needs to increase the Water Board’s authority to go after people who don’t pay their water bills. The rate increases could be reduced, she said, if the city had more power to collect from deadbeats.

Even residents of rent-stabilized apartments could eventually see their rent go up with the water rate increase, as the Rent Guidelines Board factors in utility payments when considering rent increases.

Affordable housing advocates have been testifying at Water Board hearings against the rate increase, but said the increase will likely pass at the board’s May 14 meeting.

“I’m pessimistic for the current year,” said Jim Buckley, executive director of the University Neighborhood Housing Program in the Bronx. “But I am optimistic we can stop these increases in future years. If people realized this is not a one-year deal, and that their rent could go up, then maybe they will push for the city to reexamine its water-rate structure.”