One of the more controversial decisions taken by the city of Detroit was to shut off the water to people who couldn’t afford their bills. Many objected to the practice of denying water to the city’s poorest, saying access is a basic human right.
Fortunately, at least for 2019, far fewer people are at risk of having their water shut off The Detroit News reports. According to the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department (DWSD), only 5,600 people are behind on their bills, compared with 17,000 last year, and 28,000 from 2016. Of those at risk, over half have reached out to the department for assistance.
“Our goal is to eliminate the shutoffs and not have a need for them,” DWSD Director Gary Brown told The Detroit News. Brown also said that bill collections were up to 94 percent, bringing in $65 million in additional revenue.
But activists demanding a moratorium on shutoffs are still skeptical, saying the decrease is largely due to the fact that thousands who previously had their water shut off are no longer customers.
DWSD has also come under criticism in the past year for the institution of its stormwater treatment fee. Bridge Magazine reported about the burden placed on residents and business owners.
“For years, Detroit charged residents a flat drainage rate, while businesses were supposed to pay based on the diameter of their water pipes or the amount of their properties’ ‘impervious acreage’—that is, hard surfaces like concrete, roofs and hard gravel that don’t absorb water. … Now, all pay $598 per month per impervious acre. Owners of less than 0.02 acres are exempt from the fee, while others have gone up astronomically.”
Water affordability is a huge problem in metro Detroit. In surveys conducted by the University of Michigan, 84 percent of residents in the region say they cut back on expenses in other areas to pay their water bill. According to the EPA, an affordable water bill costs about 4.5 percent of a household’s monthly income, but metro Detroiters are paying around 10 percent.
Those who make less than $36,000 and can’t afford their water bill are encouraged to create a payment plan through the Water Residential Assistance Program (WRAP), which provides up to $1,000 in assistance per year, plumbing repair grants up to $1,000 per year, and other services.