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Detroit introduces new water affordability plan

Flickr user Jenn Durfey/Flickr

Hours after the Detroit Water and Sewer Department’s Board of Water Commissioners approved it, Detroit officials announced a new water affordability plan.

The new plan has three rate tiers that will cost low-income families, $18, $43 or $56 dollars a month.

Those rates are for water usage under 4,500 gallons per month. If a family uses more water than that, the bill will include those additional water charges.

The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that the average American family of four uses more than 300 gallons of water a day, or 9,000 gallons a month.

"For anyone living with one or more people, these overage rates would recreate the spiraling debt that was the initial symptom of the crisis of water privatization," activists from Hydrate Detroit, a water advocacy organization, said in a press release.

For those eligible families, the rates will kick in on August 1.

In a Tuesday press conference, water officials said the $18 rate will go towards families who receive SNAP/FAP benefits. The $43 rate will go to low-income families who do not receive those benefits. The $56 rate will go to what officials called moderate income households who do not receive SNAP/FAP benefits.

Officials say that 70% of Detroiters will be eligible for some assistance with their water bill and that 78% of city residents will see a decrease in their water bill.

It's being called the DWSD Lifeline Plan. Detroit Water and Sewer Department’s Director Gary Brown said the total bill will be 1.8% of the average monthly household income for each tier.

Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan says no one who is enrolled in this new affordability plan will face a water shutoff in Detroit.

"The folks who need the help most often don’t have the access to the information. Those families never should have been shut off and we wanted to make sure in the final plan, that did not happen again," Duggan said.

The plan also has money allotted to address arrears or past-due water bills.

The program only has enough funding for the next year or two, according to Brown.

Right now, the program is funded from $10 million in federal dollars from the Low Income Household Water Assistance Program and about $5 million from Great Lakes Water Authority's funded Water Residential Assistance Program. The 2,500 households already enrolled in WRAP will be auto-enrolled in this new payment program.

Officials also said the more than 19,000 households who were previously in the WRAP program can qualify for this new one.

"Working with elected officials, advocates and community leaders, we hope to secure long-term funding within the next 12-24 months. We need to get households enrolled so they can benefit from the much lower monthly water bills, and we can show the state and federal agencies the success of the program to secure the long-term funding," said Bryan Peckinpaugh, the water Department's Public Affairs Director, by email.

The city plans to host fairs to enroll families, canvas neighborhoods and call families directly to let them know about the program.

Dr. Abdul El-Sayed is a former Detroit Health director and a national water advocate.

He says that this program should be a national model for water plans.

"No Detroiter should have their water turned off because they cannot afford to pay their bill. That has always been the North Star," he said.

Anyone interested in enrolling in this program can contact the Wayne Metropolitan Community Action Agency at 313-386-9727 or apply at www.waynemetro.org.

Briana Rice is Michigan Public's criminal justice reporter. She's focused on what Detroiters need to feel safe and whether they're getting it.
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