Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan exercised his new authority over the city’s water department Thursday announcing a ten-point plan to stave off mass service shutoffs in the region. The policy changes include a new payment plan option, expanded financial assistance, and measures to inform residents when their water may be turned off.
The news comes as the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department (DWSD) announced plans to extend the moratorium on residential water shutoffs until August 25.
In March, the DWSD launched an effort to collect about $119 million in delinquent payments from more than 150,000 customers, and since then 17,000 residents have had their water service shut off. Human rights organizations have criticized the shutoffs, characterizing them as “mass enforcement to discipline the people” and saying that “disconnecting water from people who cannot pay their bills is an affront to their human rights.”
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Under the mayor’s plan, fees required to have water turned back on and late-payment penalties will be waived for customers during the moratorium. Residents seeking to enter into a payment plan now will have to pay 10 percent of their past-due balance, down from the previously required 30 percent.
Notices will be posted at residents with delinquent accounts, notifying them a week in advance that their water will be shut off. In addition, the staff that operates the water department’s call center will increase by 50 percent, and the hours of the call center will expand.
During the press conference Mike Brennan, the president of United Way for Southeastern Michigan, said that his organization assisted in setting up the Detroit Water Fund to help low-income residents with unpaid water bills.
To be eligible for assistance, residents must visit a local DWSD office and enter into a payment plan agreement, making a 10 percent down payment on their outstanding bill. In turn, the fund will pay up to 25 percent of their monthly bill for up to 12 months. Residents must continue to pay their remaining portion of the bill each month in order to remain enrolled.
Those seeking assistance must fill out an application that includes proof of identification and proof of income for all household members. If residents do not have all the required documentation, their application will be considered incomplete and not processed.
“In order to give us time to complete and implement the new plan with the mayor, DWSD is extending the moratorium on residential customers through Monday, August 25,” said Sue McCormick, director of the DWSD, the Detroit Free Press reported. “Shutoffs will continue on commercial customers with significant arrearages.”
The DWSD held a water affordability fair Saturday, which reportedly attracted more than 400 residents, and another fair is set for August 23 at the Cobo Center. The events aim to provide residents who are in financial need with the information and resources they need to access assistance. Residents can speak with DWSD customer service representatives about their individual needs.
Rev. Charles Williams II, president of the National Action Network of Michigan, told MSNBC that the mayor’s plan was a step in the right direction but that it did not address the issue of affordability.
“It’s not enough to suggest a plan for those who are shut off without making sure we can keep residents from being shut off by ensuring the prices are affordable,” Williams wrote in an email to MSNBC. “So while we applaud the mayor for raising money, increasing staffing and providing access to payment arrangements, the center of this problem is still affordability and it is yet to be addressed.”
Maureen Taylor, chairwoman for the Michigan Welfare Rights Organization, told the Detroit Free Press that she is hopeful that the mayor will extend the residential shutoff moratorium beyond August 25.
“I expect this mayor to be the guy that provides some classy and out-of-the-box leadership,” Taylor said.