How Baltimore Water Bills Can Leave Families High and Dry—and Homeless

By Arthur Bridgeforth Jr.

Baltimore resident Danielle D. came within a couple weeks of losing her home due to an unpaid $1,600 water bill that had grown too high for her to pay.

That’s because in Baltimore, homeowners with a delinquent water bill can lose their home to tax sale. In the past, homes have been foreclosed and homeowners have been evicted over as little as $362.

“I got the letter from the water department saying that if I didn’t pay my water bill by April 28th I would lose it to a tax sale,” Danielle said. “I was really, really scared and really paranoid. There was no way I could afford to pay $1,600 for my water bill when I owed $1,700 for my mortgage.”

She further expressed frustration with elected officials and the system.

“I didn’t know it was that easy to take your home if you didn’t pay your water bill,” she added.

But, thanks to The Human Utility, her water bill was paid and she can keep her home.

So how did this 45-year-old, single parent with a 13-year-old son at home and a 24-year-old daughter, find herself in this situation?

Danielle is no deadbeat. She is a title-agent cashier in the finance/accounting department at the VA Medical Center, where she’s worked for 22 years.

Unfortunately, someone broke into the home she’s lived in for 17 years and damaged the front door. Danielle’s homeowners’ insurance deductible of $2,000 was higher than the repair estimate, meaning she would have to pay the $1,900 it cost to fix her door. Not to mention juggle a car note and car insurance. She found herself constantly playing catch up.

“Everything was like crazy, I wasn’t able to make payments on time, I just kept falling behind,” she said. “It was like one thing after another, it was so, so bad. If it wasn’t for prayer and God in my life I would’ve fallen apart.”

So when Danielle contacted Baltimore Public Works about assistance paying her unpaid water bill, she was referred to The Human Utility. During the entire process she said Marie Torres, her contact person, was very supportive and helpful. Danielle credits Torres with keeping her in the loop and reassuring her, even after an extended waiting period.

“She was always very, very helpful, you know some people just forget about you, but she never forgot about me,” Danielle said.

With The Human Utility having covered her bill, Danielle said she is determined to stay on track with the water bill in the future, thanks in part to Baltimore’s Water Department switching to a monthly billing cycle instead of every three months.

“I don’t ever want to be back in that situation again,” Danielle said. “Because I don’t have anywhere else, if I lose my house where am I going to go?”