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U.S. Postal Service unable to keep up with new housing

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Posted: Monday, February 3, 2014 10:16 pm

HOUSTON — 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.”

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.

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