Laurinburg may drop utility fee for housing authority

Mary Katherine Murphy - [email protected]

LAURINBURG — In upcoming budget talks, the Laurinburg City Council will discuss a possible waiver of the city’s electrical connection fee for Laurinburg Housing Authority residents.

Director Nancy Walker brought council up to date this week on the housing authority’s plan — part of a conservation initiative from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development — to shift the responsibility for utility payments to its tenants.

“This is really, on HUD’s part, a conservation tool because right now, with our system, the residents never ever see the utility bills,” said Walker. “The philosophy is, if you give an allowance and reduce the rent, that there will be incentive for the resident, once they know what the utility bill is, to conserve.”

Walker said that the change should have minimal impact on the bottom line for housing authority tenants, whose total rent and utility payments are capped at 30 percent of their income. Under the new system, tenants will receive a rent deduction to compensate for their utility payments.

“If they use less than the amount allotted for utilities, they keep the difference,” Walker said.

The housing authority is waiting for direction from HUD before formulating that allowance.

Last week, council discussed how it might handle the addition of 464 housing units to the city’s list of electrical customers, and the feasibility of expecting housing authority tenants to pay a $230 electrical service deposit.

“We proposed a plan to the city when we first started this that if they would waive the deposit when they turn the power over, we would for our existing tenants, if for some reason they moved out and didn’t pay, we would guarantee that the city would get its utility money,” said Walker.

Waiving that deposit for all current Laurinburg Housing Authority tenants would mean forfeiting around $105,000 in fees.

Tenants were notified in January of the change, which will not likely take effect until August or September. Walker said that tenants will receive at least 60 days’ notice before they are expected to assume responsibility for their own utilities.

“We talked about this in meetings so people would have time to prepare and to make arrangements for this,” Walker said.

Council took no action on Tuesday night, but will discuss the proposed waiver — and how to work with tenants who have outstanding utility bills from prior addresses — as it works on the 2016-2017 budget.

“There is the matter of the deposit and there is the matter of old bills, but for our public housing residents that is sort of an advantage that they’ve had over all other low-income people in assisted housing, because they don’t get that advantage,” said Walker. “They have to take care of those things before they move in.”

Mary Katherine Murphy can be reached at 910-506-3169.

Mary Katherine Murphy

[email protected]

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