KPRC 2 ‘DRAINED’ Investigation reveals troubling trend after people complain about getting high water bills

As KPRC 2 Investigates Houston water customers ‘DRAINED’ from dubious and sometimes inaccurate water bills we’ve noticed a troubling trend. Instead of getting to the bottom of what’s causing the irregular bills Investigator Amy Davis says the city is using money earmarked for low-income families to pay itself.

We have explained the reason we’re continuing our ‘DRAINED Investigation’ is to bring about transparency and actual change to a department and system that seems broken, mismanaged, and inefficient.

But as we have worked towards this over the last 12 months we’ve heard the city, on many occasions just tell customers to apply for financial assistance to pay the bills they don’t think they owe.

KPRC 2 Investigates high water bills. One Acres Homes resident lived without water for 4 years after he was unable to pay a $7,000+ water bill. (Copyright 2021 by KPRC Click2Houston - All rights reserved.)

“I’m not trying to get over. I want to pay my bill, Not someone else’s bill. I pay my bills and I really believe this $7000 ain’t mine,” said Edward Williams.

Williams is the Acres Homes senior citizen who lived with no water for four years because he couldn’t get the city’s help understanding why his bill was so high. When we pestered Public Works about getting answers for him a city spokesperson emailed:

“We are still recommending Amy Davis help him apply for assistance with BakerRipley.”

Even after her boss chimed in, “We need to figure out how to help on this one.”

Spokesperson Erin Jones replied, “Also sending a copy of the BakerRipley application.”

“I cannot pay no $800 a month on a $38,000 water bill, which I think is not totally my fault,” said Julia Benjamin.

Julia Benjamin fought her $38,000 water bill from a running leak in her vacant home flooded by Hurricane Harvey. She couldn’t get help to build a new home until she resolved the water bill. The city’s answer?

'DRAINED' Investigation answers your question about high water bills in Houston. (Copyright 2023 by KPRC Click2Houston - All rights reserved.)

“She did say my water bill is all paid. BakerRipley is gonna pay the water bill in full.”

BakerRipley is a non-profit charitable organization in Houston. It received federal funds for the low-income Housing Water Assistance Program. Since August of 2022, BakerRipley has paid $3.6 million dollars to the city of Houston for eligible customers.

But is it money the city was due from anyone?

“Take care of it on your end. You know there’s a mistake. You know, we’re just trying to make a living like everybody else. And I understand they are too. But that’s their job,” said Rick Naranjo.

Rick Naranjo called KPRC 2 in May when his family received A $23,000 water bill for their Sagemont home. Months later after replacing several pieces of equipment, the city says they actually owe more than $4,600.

What you need to know about water meters and your water bill. The KPRC 2 'DRAINED' Investigation looks into viewer questions and concerns related to Houston water bills. (Copyright 2023 by KPRC Click2Houston - All rights reserved.)

In a recorded call with the water department, a customer service agent told Naranjo’s wife she may be able to get financial assistance for the disputed bill.

Claudia: What do you mean financial assistance? What do you mean?

Water customer service rep: Payment of your water bill. Because with BakerRipley, you know they have funds; and a lot of people apply for the assistance.

KPRC 2 Investigates has asked and we are still waiting to find out how many Houston water accounts BakerRipley paid with that $3.6 million.

We want to know if the city adjusted or lowered the bills at all like they can or did they take the full amount from BakerRipley? Money that could have been used to help a family who truly owed the money for their water bill. We will keep asking these questions until we get answers, and we will let you know when we do.

About the Authors:

Passionate consumer advocate, mom of 3, addicted to coffee, hairspray and pastries.

Award-winning TV producer and content creator. My goal as a journalist is to help people. Faith and family motivate me. Running keeps me sane.