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Detroit bankruptcy judge will hear more arguments about water shutoffs

Ross Kuhn
via Facebook

Some Detroit residents and activists are trying to put water shutoffs on hold—again.

The Detroit water department resumed its residential water shut-off program for delinquent customers this week. It’s trying to collect more than $80 million in back payments.

The city had put the controversial program on hold for about a month, while holding water assistance fairs and giving those who struggle to pay their bills time to get on payment plans.

Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan took over the department during that “pause,” instituting new payment plan options for eligible Detroiters and boosting assistance funds.

But a group that filed a lawsuit against the shutoff policy last month said those moves aren’t good enough. They contend that the shutoffs violate constitutional rights to due process and equal protection.

Alice Jennings, lead counsel for the plaintiffs, said the payment plans just aren’t flexible enough for people who are really struggling.

“Maybe you fall off the payment plan, so we’re right back to square one,” Jennings said. “Unless and until we have a water affordability plan that really works, it’s not going to work.”

Jennings said some people can’t even afford city-sponsored payment plans because they’re so far behind on their bill, and the water department’s past “negligence” created that situation.

“DWSD allowed these large bills to accrue, and now they’re pointing the finger and saying “You’re not paying these bills,’” said Jennings. “So it’s kind of a set-up-to-mess-up situation.”

Plaintiffs’ lawyers will argue their case in front of Judge Steven Rhodes, who’s in charge of Detroit’s bankruptcy case, next week.

They want Rhodes to issue an injunction suspending the shutoffs again.

Sarah Cwiek joined Michigan Public in October 2009. As our Detroit reporter, she is helping us expand our coverage of the economy, politics, and culture in and around the city of Detroit.
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