Roughly 17,461 Detroit households could have their water shut off next month, thanks to the water department’s decision to continue its controversial program.
The looming shutoffs have been met with criticism from activists who feel the city should implement a comprehensive affordability plan to prevent any interruptions in service, the Detroit Free Press reported. The city’s water shutoffs first made headlines in 2014 when tens of thousands of residents had their water switched off.
News of the shutoffs soon spread overseas, sparking concerns among members of the United Nations.
“When I got here, 50,000 people were at risk of being shut off and 44,000 were actually shut off,” Water and Sewerage Director Gary Brown told the newspaper. ” … The United Nations was here, people were picketing, and rightly so, saying this was inhumane and unfair.”
Last year, the department turned off roughly 17,500 delinquent accounts, a significant drop from the nearly 28,000 service interruptions the year before. Only 15,461 households were shutoff due to nonpayment in 2015 compared to a whopping 30,000 in 2014.
Brown said the average past due amount is $663. However, he said he expects the number of at-risk customers to drastically reduce by May, as customers will likely come into set up payment plans.
Historically, the department has made three attempts to reach customers before shutting off their service. This year, it will make a fourth attempt. Brown said his department has made vast improvements in helping create better options and affordability programs for residents in recent years but admits there’s more work that needs to be done.
“Anyone being shut off is unfairly disadvantaged,” Brown told the Free Press. “There’s a level of poverty in this city that has them strapped for cash. We recognize that but I’m saying to them, every single residential customer has a path to not have service interruption.
“We’re trying to be compassionate about it, but at the same time I’m bound by law to collect the services that are rendered,” he continued. “It’s unfair to the 90% of residential customers that are paying. That is the tricky part: separating the truly needy from those who are just not paying.”
Last week, the Detroit City Council greenlit a $7.8-million dollar contract with Homrich Wrecking to conduct water shutoffs through June 30, 2021, according to Michigan Radio.
The city will begin notifying delinquent households in mid-April, and water shutoffs are due to resume at the end of the month.