Post office installs cluster unit without providing keys
Dec. 1, 2015 at 11:15 p.m.
Updated Dec. 2, 2015 at 6 a.m.
Old, rusted cluster mailboxes with broken locks were something Maria Garcia was used to in her Silver City neighborhood.
They became even harder to bear after the post office installed a new box unit on her street but never gave the residents keys to use it.
Looking at the shiny, new units and having to struggle with the dilapidated ones was like a slap in the face, Garcia said.
After several months of unanswered calls to her local post office, Garcia said the postmaster finally sent someone out to fix the locks on the broken mailboxes but never gave her an answer about why she and her Booker Street neighbors didn't have access to the new cluster box units.
"I got no explanation, no key, no nothing," she said. "They don't care because it's on this side of town, and we're ignored over here."
A cluster box unit is a freestanding, pedestal-mounted mailbox containing eight to 16 individually locked mailboxes.
In the past decade, cluster box units have become more common in neighborhoods over personalized mailboxes because they are a cost-saving tool for the post office. Doorstop delivery costs about $369 per address each year, while delivery to a cluster box costs about $165, a post office spokesman said.
However, they do come with their fair share of problems, including the question of who is responsible for maintaining them.
According to the U.S. Postal Service, the answer varies depending on what needs to be maintained and who installed the units. The post office is always responsible for maintaining and changing locks, but dealing with vandalism and other issues, such as age and rust, can belong to the post office, homeowner's association or apartment management. It all depends on who purchased the units.
The boxes on Booker Street - both the old and the new one - were installed by the post office.
The Advocate asked managers at the Sam Houston Street post office after talking with Garcia to find out why the new cluster boxes were installed on Booker Street but residents were not able to use them.
Initially, management didn't know the boxes had been installed on Booker Street, but after investigating the issue, management said they were installed because there were plans to redevelop the road. Because the plans didn't pan out, the post office hadn't followed through with mailing out keys.
The post office mailed keys to the new cluster boxes to the residents in the 2500 block of Booker Street the day after being contacted by the Advocate.
"It's so sad we had to go through all of this just to get the keys," Garcia said after hearing the news.
But mostly, she said, she was happy to finally have some sort of resolution.
When Garcia told me she felt as if she couldn't get help because she lived in an impoverished part of town, I figured the least I could do was listen.