The city finds themselves right back in a situation they would like to avoid. Last year the city made a concerted effort to help citizens avoid water cutoffs, yet here they are facing shutoffs to approximately 28,000 customers.
According to the Detroit Free Press, there are 73,000 active residential accounts with $47 million in bills that are two months behind. Unfortunately, despite the efforts, many customers have failed to move into good standing. Last June, when the issue became national news, there were more than 79,000 delinquent accounts owing $42 million. City officials said that an estimated 13,000 customers defaulted in November and December on payment plans designed to keep them out of delinquency.
With a regional water authority looming, it’s important for the water department to get their finances in order. However, with the shutoffs on the horizon, the water department faces another public relations nightmare – a repeat of last summer, when they drew national and international criticism from those who said clean water was a basic human right. City officials have acknowledged that the payment plans have not succeeded the way they would have liked.
“We’re cognizant that many Detroiters live in poverty, and we’ll do whatever we can to help them resolve those issues,” said Gary Brown, Mayor Mike Duggan’s group executive for operations, to the Free Press. “It’s not the financial help that’s lacking, but rather having a system in place to ensure they have access to all the services that are out there.”
The mayor has been unwavering that water service cannot be provided for free, without other citizens taking on the brunt of rising water cost. In the meantime, the administration continues to work on a program that will make it easier for residents to get on payment plans to get out of shutoff status. Roughly $6 million has been raised this summer and has been set aside to the Detroit Water Fund, designed to help low-income households across southeast Michigan.
“These assistance plans are Band-Aids. They are not a solution,” said Lynna Kaucheck, a senior organizer with Food & Water Watch who has closely monitored shutoffs in Detroit to the Free Press. “If you can’t afford to be on the assistance plan, it doesn’t matter if you know about it.”
Zack Burgess is an award winning journalist. He is the Director/Owner of OFF WOODWARD MEDIA, LLC, where he works as a writer, editor and communications specialist. His work can be seen at zackburgess.com. Twitter: @zackburgess1