Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Water Torture No Reason for Clairton Townhomes to Stay Shut Off

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Water Torture No Reason for Clairton Townhomes to Stay Shut Off

Article excerpt

In Clairton, where poverty is high, crime is alarming and prospects for a development boom anytime soon are low, it would be nice if at least the water flowed.

On May 10, Pennsylvania American Water Co. shut off the water for about six hours to the 425 units at Century Townhomes because of unpaid bills totaling hundreds of thousands of dollars. The money is owed by the homeowners association, which is supposed to collect payments from the owners and tenants of the various units and then pay the water company. But much of the debt accumulated under a company, Century Arms Townhomes LLC, that owned 165 units and failed to remit its share to the homeowners association.

Now, the homeowners association is in bankruptcy, and residents wonder if or when their taps will run dry again. They shouldn't have to live that way. Clairton is an economically depressed American city, not a developing country struggling through issues of food and water security.

The fates of the 425 units are inextricably linked because of the long-ago decision to install one water meter for the entire complex. Instead of paying for the water they actually use, residents are supposed to pay a flat $150 to the homeowners association each month for water and sewage disposal.

New housing developments usually have separately metered units, but a single meter is not uncommon in older complexes such as Century Townhomes, which dates to the 1940s. There, it's been a recipe for disaster. Some pay for more water than they use, others for less and a certain number, like Century Arms, haven't paid what they owed.

With one meter, one account with the water company and one entity on the hook for bills, everyone suffered when Pennsylvania American briefly cracked down last month on the delinquency.

State Rep. Austin Davis, D-McKeesport, has suggested that the utility put in meters for all units. …

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