Shocking Electric Bills Update

by  Assistant Editor

In the March/April issue, I wrote about extremely high electric bills that many of the residents in Robert Taylor Homes are faced with.

Some low-income residents have bills from $1,000 to $20,000. Many residents are in shock as if they have been struck by lightning when it comes to these high light bills. The high light bills could make them “lease non-compliant” and then they will not be eligible for replacement housing.

Many Robert Taylor residents can watch the storm of demolition and relocation from their windows; they watch the surrounding buildings falling and being demolished at a rapid pace. Many of the residents don’t know which way to turn or where to run for cover or for help. Many of them are expressing great concerns about where will they live.

Many of the residents whose buildings are due to be closed soon are highly charged. They feel Commonwealth Edison is leaving them hanging like a broken light fixture in need of repair.

Lithia Henderson, whose light bill was reprinted in the last issue, received her most recent bill that now reads $11,356. Henderson, a young single mother of three, said, “How will I be able to pay that bill? A bill like that is going to take me years to pay and I will still owe it when I’m dead and gone. “I’m low income. I’m not a rich woman living on the Gold Coast.”

I called the office of Commonwealth Edison’s CEO and talked to the head of communications, Tim Linderberg, about the high light bill situation in the Robert Taylor development. I asked him what has been done concerning the residents’ dilemma?

He said, “Commonwealth Edison deals with each client on a case-by-case basis. We are encouraging anyone who feels that their light bill isn’t accurate to feel free to call us. Don’t hesitate to ask us, ‘What am I being billed for?’ We will investigate.”

Commonwealth Edison wrote a letter to the head of asset management for the Chicago Housing Authority, Kevin Collins, concerning the high light bills in Robert Taylor. The letter was obtained by Residents’ Journal and reads, in part, as follows:

“Mr. Kevin Collins,

“As we discussed today during our telephone conversation, we attempted to contact 24 tenants from the South Federal location (4525 and 4429 buildings). Of those tenants, no arrangements were made for various reasons.

“Some of the reason arrangements were not made were the lack of responsiveness from the tenants. Several households indicated that they would return our calls and none have. Arrangements were offered and the tenants refused them.

“Several locations are due to be disconnected for non-payment, yet the tenants indicated that services were off. We pointed out that the services were on without authorization and should not be connected, to which the tenants acknowledge that the services are supposed to be off but had no knowledge of how they got back on.

“Some of the delinquent balances are in the excess of a thousand dollars. The arrangements that the tenants were looking for ranged from $5.00 to $20.00 a month, until the balance was paid off. These arrangement timeframes translated to as few as 5 years to as long as forty five years to pay. These arrangements were impractical and were not valuable to ComEd. We offered up to two years to pay off the balance with zero plus their regular bill. However, no one accepted this.

“Only one tenant has made payments and is trying to stay current. The remaining tenants, of which we attempted to contact twenty-three, either made no arrangements or failed to call or simply wanted arrangements that were beyond the scope of reason as listed above….”

The letter was signed by a senior administrator of Commonwealth Edison.

When I went back to the buildings to talk to the residents about this letter, they wanted more than ever to have a meeting with ComEd. Robert Taylor resident Joyce Smother said, “They haven’t tried to contact me about a light bill. I went to the first meeting.”

Many of the residents in 4525 S. Federal St. told me they need another meeting and that the letter is simply not true. “No one tried to contact us about our electric bills,” one resident said.

The residents are not the only ones interested in setting up a meeting. CHA officials said they, too, are trying to set up a meeting with ComEd officials. Collins, the asset manager for CHA, said, “We are trying to set up a meeting…concerning the high light bills with the residents of Robert Taylor Homes, and Commonwealth Edison staff. We are talking to Robert Taylor ‘A’ LAC President Mattie McCoy concerning that very issue.”

Duwaine Bailey, head of operations for CHA, said, “CHA is committed to working with the residents, and the residents’ leadership, so that we can resolve this issue. I will call a meeting with Commonwealth Edison, resident leadership and CHA. We are very concerned about this problem concerning the residents.”

In early August, however, residents of Robert Taylor were still waiting for that meeting.

There’s a great reason for every resident in public housing and beyond to be concerned about their electric bills not being up to date and current. The reason why you as a resident should worry is because many other residents who received their Housing Choice Vouchers (formerly known as Section 8 vouchers or certificates) owed high electric bills, couldn’t pay and found themselves without a Housing Choice Voucher any longer.

Veronica Givens, a former resident of Robert Taylor Homes, moved to Atlanta, GA, with her voucher. Givens had a high light bill, couldn’t pay, and lost her voucher. She found herself homeless in a strange city with no family or friends. Now she’s back in Chicago, looking for a home.

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