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Detroit pastors call for an end to water shutoffs

Religious leaders gathered in downtown Detroit to call for an end to the city's water shutoffs. The city began issuing shutoff notices in May. Since then, it has turned off water for 11,422 people, and 8,559 of those have had service restored.

The religious leaders are calling for the city to establish a program that would allow residents to pay a rate for water based on their income. Reverend Steve Bland of Liberty Temple Baptist Church spoke at the rally, "It is inhumane, and sacrilegious, to build a great city on the backs of its impoverished people, and then deny them the basic human rights like food and water."

Reverend Ed Rowe is with Central United Methodist Church.

"The City of Detroit would get a lot more money if it would allow people to pay what they could afford. This is financial lunacy as well as immoral," he said.

Other faith leaders in attendance at the rally included Imam Mustafa Steve El Turk, president of the Islamic Organization of North America, Rev. JoAnn Watson, of West Side Unity church, and Rabbi Ariana Silverman of Isaac Agree Downtown Synagogue.

Detroit drew widespread criticism when it began shutting water off for non-payment in 2014. It turned off service for 30,000 homes that year. In 2015, 15,461 customers were shut off, and in 2016, 28,000. Last year, there were 17,689 shutoffs.

In March, the Detroit City Council approved a $7.8-million dollar contract with Homrich Wrecking to conduct water shutoffs through June 30, 2021.

The Detroit Water and Sewerage Department issued the following written statement:

“The Detroit Water and Sewerage Department (DWSD) provides a path for every residential water customer to avoid a service interruption, and we partner with non-profits, faith-based leaders and members of city council to reach those who need help. In the past two years, more than $8 million has assisted low-income households with water bills, and minor home plumbing repairs to help reduce high bills, through WRAP, the Water Residential Assistance Program. Residents who have difficulty paying their water bills, are encouraged to call DWSD at 313-267-8000 for assistance. And, when community leaders and the public encounter residents who have water issues, please direct them to DWSD so we can help. While Michigan’s legal framework gives municipal water utilities the authority to set rates, basing those rates on income is currently illegal in this state due to the Headlee Amendment and Bolt vs. Lansing. DWSD will continue to work with community leaders on water affordability, including avenues to address high water bills through water conservation such as minor home plumbing repairs and toilet replacement.”