HOUSTON -- Drive around Sterling Knoll, a small subdivision in southeast Houston, and you’ll see streets lined with middle-class suburban houses surrounding a well-maintained park decorated with new playground equipment.
Homeowners mow their lawns on a hot summer day, grandparents walk children around the park and the gentle sound of birds chirping in the trees is occasionally drowned out by the roar of a jet flying out of nearby Ellington Airport.
One more thing you might notice: the garbage sitting on the curbs.
“It’s all over,” said Rick Palomo, one of the neighborhood’s residents looking at the trash sitting on the curbside near his home. “It’s just bringing down the value of my home. Bring a homeowner, you know, someone’s interested in buying a home, they don’t want to live in an area with trash all over the place. I wouldn’t.”
Garbage cans, trash bags, piles of wood and small mounds of other debris sit outside some of houses, evidence of an odd problem with the subdivision’s trash collection.
Although it sits inside Houston’s city limits, Sterling Knoll doesn’t get city trash service. Officials said the deal that annexed the subdivision into Houston also gave the subdivision a supplemental payment in exchange for hiring a contractor to haul away its garbage.
Waste Management, one of the nation’s largest trash disposal businesses, has been collecting the garbage in this neighborhood for years. And the people who live in this subdivision are supposed to pay it a fee -- $8.83 a month -- for trash service.
The company said it recently conducted an audit and discovered that the residents or owners of more than half the homes in this subdivision – 190 out of the 337 houses -- haven’t been paying their monthly fees. So on Monday, the company stopped its semi-weekly trash pick-up for the people who aren’t paying their bills.
“This whole street was cluttered with garbage,” said Bradley Chance, one of the subdivision’s residents. “It looked like New York.”
Trash collection in the neighborhood was spotty. Although most homeowners who paid their bills saw their garbage picked up as usual, neighborhood leaders said truck drivers were apparently so confused they left trash sitting outside houses whose owners had paid their bills.
After a flood of complaints, Waste Management officials agreed to resume garbage collection service for everyone in the neighborhood – even those who hadn’t paid their bills – for two more weeks, giving residents time to set up their accounts.
“I think it’s just people that got swept up in the day to day life and forgot, or didn’t realize, or moved into the house and had so many other things going on they forgot about setting up trash service,” said Kathy Dooley of community Management Solutions, a company that acts something like property manager for the subdivision.
After the next two weeks, though, people who don’t pay their bills won’t have any trash service. And that raises the possibility that neighbors haven’t seen the last of the garbage piled up along their streets.
“There are still people here that won’t pay it, just because they feel that ‘I’ve never had it, never required it and I’m not going to do it,’” Chance said.