What’s stopping the mail in some Houston neighborhoods? Not rain, snow, sleet nor hail

Packages wait to be sorted in a Post Office.
Packages wait to be sorted in a Post Office.

HOUSTON (AP) — Judy Paskins hasn’t had a single card or bill delivered to her new home in an upscale Katy subdivision since moving there six months ago from Michigan.

It’s not because old friends or bill collectors have forgotten her. The 62-year-old retired nurse is just one of hundreds of families in new developments surrounding Houston being forced to wait for the U.S. Postal Service to install cluster mailboxes.

“On average, we have homeowners waiting from six to eight months for their mailboxes,” Susan Vreeland-Wendt, director of marketing for The Woodlands Development Co., told the Houston Chronicle.

The Postal Service is responsible for erecting the cluster boxes, which became mandatory for new developments in 2012 as a means to off-set some of the agency’s $40 billion debt. A congressional committee working on postal-reform bills found that delivering to cluster mailboxes cost less than half of doorstep service — $160 per address compared to $353 an address per year, officials say. The switch is expected to save the Postal Service around $4 billion annually.

The nationwide shortage started after the Postal Service, which had historically manufactured the locks, decided last year to outsource to a new supplier, said Patricia Licata, a Postal Service spokeswoman in Washington, D.C. The Postal Service declined to give the manufacturer’s name or reason for the backlog, citing security concerns.

“For security reasons, the Postal Service is limited to the amount of approved vendors handling the production and installation of these locks,” said Dionne Montague, a Postal Service representative in Houston.

The Postal Service told developers in The Woodlands that the agency will be getting to everyone as soon as possible and in the order requests were made, Vreeland-Wendt said.

Frustrated homeowners are taking their anger out on developers, even though it is the Postal Service’s failure, said Ed Taravella, chairman of the Greater Houston Builder’s development council.

He understands the mail must be protected, but wonders, “What makes these locks so special … are they magic locks?”

Absent the cluster boxes, Paskins and other homeowners in these new subdivisions have to collect their bills and packages from area post offices, sometimes standing in hour-long lines.

“It’s a horrible situation,” said Jennifer Leal, who lives near Paskins in the Firethorne Subdivision and has had to fetch her mail from a postal annex since September. “Some people are losing it in those lines. They particularly got livid over the holidays. I worry that someone will … do something terrible.”

Developers in fast-growing areas from Cinco Ranch in Fort Bend County to The Woodlands in Montgomery County can’t wait for the headache to end.

Wayne Meyer, Firethorne’s general manager, complained in a letter this month to four Texas lawmakers that he received no response from correspondence he sent to Katy Post Master Chenise Ledoux about the problem.

“If this is an example of how the U.S. Postal Service is managed, it is no wonder they are having financial and management problems,” Meyer wrote to U.S. Sens. John Cornyn and Ted Cruz and U.S. Reps. Pete Olson and Michael McCaul.

Ledoux could not be reached for comment regarding Meyer’s complaint.

Several homeowners said Katy-area postal workers have told them that even if the locks are made readily available that they are too understaffed to install the cluster boxes and service the routes.

Leal, who lives in the Firethorne subdivision, said postal workers at her post office appear to be too overwhelmed to properly sort the mail.

“It’s getting mixed up and handed out to other people all the time,” she said. “These mix-ups are causing people to get cut-off and overdue notices. It recently took 21 days for my water bill from the day it was mailed to reach me.”

Kathy Baldwin, the National Association of Letter Carriers’ spokeswoman in Houston, said the Postal Service has been struggling with a declining work force for years. Baldwin said the agency should see some relief soon because a new collective bargaining agreement is expected to allow for the hiring of 30,300 more postal workers nationwide.

Meanwhile, the Postal Service is trying to expedite delivery of the new locks, Montague said.

“We have ordered a sufficient number for the Houston area and anticipate that we will receive all we need within the next few weeks,” she said.

Licata, the D.C. Postal Service spokeswoman, gave a different timetable. She said the backlog probably wouldn’t be eliminated until March, meaning the new locks would likely arrive sometime in April.

Paskins remains skeptical of both schedules as she continues making her regular treks to the post office to retrieve her mail.

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