Detroit to start water shut-offs Monday

George Hunter
The Detroit News

Detroit — Crews are set to begin shutting off water service Monday to thousands who haven’t paid their bills, a city water official said.

About 23,000 people owe money to the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department, with an average bill of $663, officials said. The utility Saturday made a last-ditch effort to allow those in arrears to enter payment plans.

About 1,000 people visited the utility’s main office on Randolph in downtown Detroit and the east side Customer Service Center on East McNichols on Saturday.

“We’re not just going to shut people’s water off without giving them a chance,” spokeswoman Linda Clark said Sunday. “We’re doing what we can to help people. The last thing we want to do is cut off people’s service.”

People began lining up outside the center early Saturday, Clark said. The queue snaked out the door, along East McNichols, bending north up Hickory Street and into an alley.

Retired audio technician Chuck Daniels, 60, stood at the end of the long line Saturday.

“I had a leakage in my house, and the water bill was $700 over two months,” he said. “The bill is due. The (water department) said they’d give assistance, so I’m here to find out what kind of help they can give me.”

Around 12:30 p.m., Khadijah Shabazz, 31, toward the front of the line, said she’d been waiting about four hours.

“I’m not in shut-off status, but I’m poor,” she said. “I’m hoping I can get some kind of help paying the bill.”

A blue-ribbon panel on affordability was commissioned to review, analyze and make recommendations for programs aimed at helping the consumer.

The panel helped create two programs for people behind on their bills:

■The WRAP fund, which targets people who live in and outside of Detroit, was set up by the Wayne Metro Community Action Agency. In order to qualify, customers must be at 150 percent of the poverty level or below. Qualified customers could get up to $1,000 a year in assistance in paying bills, plus up to $1,000 to fix minor plumbing issues leading to high usage.

■For Detroit residents, the department offered the “10/30/50” plan. There is no income restriction for the plan, in which customers pay a minimum of 10 percent of their past due amount, with the remaining amount to be paid over 12 to 24 months.

“At one time, we had 44,000 people on payment plans, but some broke the plan and didn’t keep up with their payments,” Clark said. “We are trying everything” so people can avoid getting their service disconnected.

Last year, 1 in 9 residential accounts in the city were shut off. At its peak, the city averaged 2,000 residential shutoffs a week, according to a Detroit News analysis. Since the delinquent water shutoff campaign began in 2014, about 50,000 shutoffs have been conducted.

Twitter: @GeorgeHunter_DN