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Detroit planning to resume water shutoffs next week for customers with high debt

faucet running water
Marina Shemesh
Public Domain

After a three-year-moratorium, Detroit’s Water and Sewerage Department is threatening water shutoffs to residents who owe more than $5,000 and live in what the department calls higher income areas.

The water department has notified over 700 households that they’re water could be shut off next week if they don’t enroll in a payment plan or pay off the debt.

Detroit Water and Sewerage Department Director Gary Brown says the department used US Census data to determine which neighborhoods to focus on first for water shutoffs. Those neighborhoods owe the most and have the highest average income.

“There's divorces, there's bankruptcies, there's death in the family. Their life gets in the way. And all we're asking them to do is to let us know what circumstances they have, because we have a program that will extend their payments to make it manageable for them,” Brown said.

Low-income Detroiters enrolled in the city’s Lifeline affordability and usage plan or anyone enrolled in a payment plan will be exempt from shutoffs, at least for now.

The city’s new water affordability plan for low-income Detroiters caps water bills at as little as $18 a month. The program, called Lifeline, also helps customers pay off their past-due water bills, and paid over $8.9 million for some 9,000 households that enrolled in the program in 2022. Department officials say residential customers racked up $85 million in delinquent bills over the pandemic

Those households that received door hangers notifying them of impending shutoffs had 10 days to call the water department before they could face a water shutoff next week.

Brown mentioned Palmer Woods, Sherwood Forest, Indian Village and Boston Edison as neighborhoods that could see potential shutoffs.

About a quarter of Detroit’s residential customers were behind on their bills as of late last year, with a $700 average delinquency, according to Brown. But the department believes only about a third of those delinquent account owners – around 20,000 households – are actually unable to pay. Over 20,000 people have enrolled in the city’s Lifeline plan.

If you think you may be eligible for the DWSD Lifeline program, call Wayne Metro at (313) 386-9727 or enroll online at https://www.waynemetro.org/dwsdlifeline/

UPDATE: August 16, 2023, 4:30 p.m.

On Wednesday, the water department said about 200 households were still facing a water shutoff over the next month. The other 500 households who had been facing a shutoff had either paid their debt in full, joined the city's water affordability plan, or joined a payment plan, according to a spokesperson.

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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