Apr 24, 2019

Less Detroit Water Customers at Risk

The water department in Detroit, Mich., is seeing fewer water customers at risk of shutoffs

The water department in Detroit, Mich., is seeing fewer water customers at risk of shutoffs
The water department in Detroit, Mich., is seeing fewer water customers at risk of shutoffs.

The Detroit water department is seeing a decline in the number of residential accounts being targeted for shutoff, according to water officials.

According to The Detroit News, Detroit's Water and Sewerage Department this month resumed its campaign to turn off water for delinquent customers, and 5,600 residential customers are at risk.

The water department contends about 56% of those who received warning of the impending shutoffs last month sought assistance right away — and the overall number is about one third of what it was this time last spring when the department reported about 17,000 faced shutoffs, according to The Detroit News. The average residential arrearage is $750.

"Our goal is to eliminate the shutoffs and not have a need for them," said Gary Brown, water department director.

Brown said that over the next six months, he hopes to reduce the department's reliance on shutoff contractors and manage the bulk of the city's water shutoffs in-house.

According to The Detroit News, Brown also noted a 94% collections rate, up from 77% in 2016. That is resulted in about $65 million in additional revenue to rebuild Detroit's aging mains and sewer lines, repair buildings and purchase new equipment, he said.

"But more importantly, as it relates to affordability, it's $65 million we're not passing on to customers in bad debt in next year's rates," Brown said.

He added that only 6% of the department's 175,000 residential customers "are having issues" with paying their bills.

Sylvia Orduño, an activist with Michigan Welfare Rights Organization, said spring is a tense time for the city's vulnerable as residential shutoffs resume.

"We know that this is always going to be the worst time of the year for people who now have these accumulated bills," she said. "People start to get scared, and they are on the lookout for these trucks. They know what it means. It's just really devastating."

According to The Detroit News, the shutoff campaign for delinquent accounts first began amid Detroit's financial crisis, and it has drawn criticism from activists and groups across the nation that have called for an affordability plan and moratorium.

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