AFFORDABILITY HYPOCRISY? With housing and utilities, CoMo City Hall should practice what it preaches
- Written by Mike Martin
Housing costs are more than just rent or mortgage
COLUMBIA, Mo 12/2/15 (Beat Byte) -- As Columbia City Hall kicks off a two-day "affordable housing symposium" some are calling "extravagant," one of the city's top utility experts is sounding the alarm over skyrocketing utility bills.
"Utility costs are one of the most significant barriers to affordable housing," Bill Weitkemper explained in a Nov. 26 email to City Council members.
A retired sewer utility supervisor, Weitkemper won the first Robb Award for Public Service. He currently sits on a city commission charged with utility planning.
A dizzying series of rate hikes city manager Mike Matthes has enacted helped propel Columbia to the Missouri city with the highest cost of living.
The minimum utility charge for a 750 sq. ft. home -- a typical size for affordable housing -- is $55.46 /month or $665.52/year, Weitkemper explained.
That's before any electricity, water or sewer usage! So much for energy efficiency and conservation measures.
Utility costs are an essential component of housing affordability city leaders must address, Weitkemper explains. Low rents and mortgages can only do so much. The least-affordable cities have the highest utility and commuting costs, explains Nickel and Dimed: How Utility and Commuting Costs affect Middle-Class Housing Affordability.
To increase affordable housing, Weitkemper urges Council members -- who control city utilities with Matthes -- to reduce the minimum/base charges for electric, water, sewer and refuse.
Skeptics see the symposium and the "economic inequality" plan Matthes rolled out earlier this year as pandering to some members of the City Council, notably newly-elected First Ward Councilman Clyde Ruffin, who not only represents a large, low-income population, but also the all-important downtown area.
Angry constituents forced Ruffin's predecessor, Ginny Chadwick, out of office after she became a cheerleader for the controversial Opus student apartment development, while rebuffing critics of the downtown student housing explosion.
Since taking office in 2011, Matthes, with Council approval, has raised virtually every source of city revenue, with most increases falling disproportionately on low-income people.
Once considered a bargain, Columbia has become Missouri's highest cost of living city. Each business fee hike is passed along to customers as higher prices or rents. Consumers bear the direct brunt of the other increases.
Since 2011, Matthes has hiked:
Garbage collection fees
Park use fees
Health department food handler card fees
Tattoo parlor inspection fees
Retaurant inspection fees
Utility connection fees
Parking garage permit fees
Building permit fees
Building and site plan review fees
Rental unit inspection fees
Recreational service fees
Business license fees
Health Department service fees
Surface lot parking permit fees
Sewer connection fees
Municipal speeding fines
Water tap fees
Water meter fees
Backflow prevention fees