Persistent Problem: Detroit Water Shutoffs Still Affect Thousands

January 14, 2020, 1:48 PM

By the city's calculations, thousands of Detroiters still lack residential water service because of payment-related shutoffs.


"I'm getting tired of writing it, but: This is nuts," posts Freep columnist Nancy Kaffer. 

As of Oct. 31, according to its own internal report, the water department had turned off water to more than 25,000 accounts in 2019, and subsequently restored service to 13,721 of those customers.

That means 11,297 accounts still lack water service. And 10,145 of those accounts serve properties the department believes are occupied. ...

This is year seven of Detroit's water crisis, and I think it's actually getting worse.

After decades of lax enforcement, the department got serious about shutting off delinquent accounts in 2014, during the city's historic municipal bankruptcy. ... But the department's crackdown was poorly handled, providing water customers in a city with a 40% poverty rate too little time to prepare after decades in which the department tolerated unpaid bills.

Department officials finally recognized this, launching two programs to help delinquent customers. ... A third program announced in August ... hasn't launched yet.


Department spokesman Bryan Peckinpaugh this week tells the editorial page writer "that he is not aware of any customers with long-term service interruptions." But she also notes:

The department didn't provide information in response a request for the cumulative total of accounts whose service has been suspended.

Kaffer calls for "more comprehensive assistance programs" and floats an idea she acknowledges is a flashpoint: 

The best solution would be to rethink the way we distribute water.

Charging low-income customers less based on household income would increase access. ... It's better for all of us when all of us are healthy. ... 

This is something we've absolutely got to figure out.

Read more:  Detroit Free Press

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