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Water shut-off warnings to be posted Monday

Christine Ferretti
The Detroit News

Detroit — The city will begin hanging notices on the doors of delinquent residential water customers Monday, giving them 10 days to sign up for a payment assistance plan or face cutoff.

Chester Clemons, a water shut-off technician for the city of Detroit, shuts off water at a home in Palmer Woods neighborhood in Detroit on July 8, 2014.

The Detroit Water and Sewerage Department has estimated that Detroit has 20,000 to 25,000 delinquent residential accounts.

Shut-off status comes into play for accounts that are at least 60 days late or owe $150 or more. The notices will detail the warning and options for getting help, Gary Brown, Detroit's chief operating officer, has said.

Brown noted service won't be turned off to delinquent customers who opt into a payment plan. Typically, about 50 percent of people come in, get on plans and make a payment once the door hangers go out. The others, he's said, come in to pay on their bill on the day that service is shut off.

DeMeeko Williams of the Detroit Water Brigade says assistance efforts haven't done enough to help the city's low-income residents, and he continues to advocate for the city to stop shut-offs altogether.

"We want the shut-offs to end. Period. End of story," said Williams, a chief coordinator for the volunteer group that helps families facing water shut-offs.

Williams added: "They can send out the notices, but really are not reaching out to the people."

As the residential notifications resume, the council is expected to soon advance a resolution asking the new Great Lakes Water Authority to establish a work group to evaluate the feasibility of a water affordability program.

Such a program would charge high- and moderate-income residents more for water than low-income residents. The idea has previously been proposed but never implemented in Detroit.

President Pro Tem George Cushingberry Jr. supports exploring an affordability plan. He's also been working with assistance organizations on "additional efforts for the less fortunate."

There are a variety of assistance programs for low-income residents right now, including the Detroit Water Fund, an effort rolled out by the Duggan administration last summer after the city and water department faced national criticism over widespread residential shut-offs.

The fund had about 3,800 applicants. Of those, 1,856 qualified and are receiving assistance, according to the United Way, which administers the program.

However, DWSD officials noted last week that 30 percent of the individuals in the program have stopped paying.

Last month, the city retooled the plan to cover up to 50 percent of eligible customers' arrearages, rather than the prior 25 percent. In addition, customers previously helped by the fund who defaulted may reapply immediately without penalty.

The Detroit Water Fund is designed for residents with an outstanding balance of $300 to $2,000, who maintain average water usage for household size and have an income at or below 150 percent of the federal poverty level.

The program is slated to be replaced in July with a more comprehensive approach that will go into effect under the new authority.