Electrically Charged

by  Assistant Editor

Robert Taylor Homes residents aren’t the only ones getting charged about their high electric bills. As RJ has reported over recent months, many of the residents in Robert Taylor Homes have electric bills in the amounts of $500 to $22,000, and in some cases more. These unpaid bills are a problem for those residents who are being relocated under the Chicago Housing Authority’s Plan for Transformation.

The Relocation Contract with CHA states that residents must be current with all utility bills or they won’t be eligible for replacement housing. Some of the residents in Robert Taylor accumulated these high bills by not paying for electric service for a number of years. Other residents have wiring that is connected to other apartments and some tenants inherited accumulated electric bills from the last tenant who occupied their apartment.

After RJ covered the electric bill situation in Robert Taylor, many residents from other developments filled my telephone line with a high power surge of calls complaining about their high electric bills. One resident who wishes her name not be used said she received an electric bill of more than $1,000 for just one month of service. “I couldn’t believe my eyes when I looked at my electric bill,” she said. “Something is not right about these bills that we are receiving.”

After receiving all of these calls, I decided to take a little journey into other developments to shed light on this subject of high electric bills. I talked to Local Advisory Council (LAC) President Carol Steele from Cabrini Green, who informed me that a lot of her residents are also experiencing the shockingly high electric bills.

One resident from Cabrini Green who overheard my conversation with Steele said, “I think they are doing this to the low-income residents so that we will not be eligible to come back to our developments once new housing is built.”Louisa Samuel, a former resident of Robert Taylor who now resides in the Dearborn Homes, received her light bill before being relocated in July. Her bill read $1,066. In September, her bill read $1,173.

Samuel admitted she has not been paying her bills. But she explained that she has no income. “I don’t receive nothing but food stamps. I have no income. I’m on zero rent.”How am I going to pay a $2 bill let alone a thousand and something? I just don’t have any type of income.” Many residents are under the impression that CHA is supposed to help a resident with their electric services if they are not receiving any type of income.

After hearing what the residents thought, I decided to talk to a CHA official to find out if there is any truth to the residents’ expectations. I called CHA spokesperson Kathryn Greenberg and asked her about a utility allowance residents are supposed to get if they have no income.

Greenberg said, “Some of the residents do receive a utility allowance. It depends on certain criteria to see if they qualify.” CHA official Meghan Hart said CHA did pay the electric bill for one tenant recently relocated from Robert Taylor Homes.”We are helping a young lady, Stephanie Miller, who recently relocated out of the Robert Taylor Homes to Leclaire Courts. “But she does have some type of income, but very little income.”

After speaking to Hart, I called Commonwealth Edison’s communications department and spoke to Meg Amato. When asked about the high electric bills in the developments, Amato said, “It’s up to the customers to explain their situation to us. We have a policy that is mandated by the state. If customers have a problem with their bills, they can call us. “We wish to work with any customer in good faith who wishes to pay their bills.

“We provide a service and if we don’t get paid, we can’t continue to provide this type of service. It’s almost like if a customer went to the grocery store and stocked up on food and didn’t pay.The store wouldn’t let them leave with the food. We wouldn’t be able to stay in business if we did that.”

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