3K Detroit water customers avoid shut-offs

Christine Ferretti
The Detroit News

Detroit — About half of the residential water customers facing shut-offs in the past week have taken action to keep their water on, officials say.

Detroit Water and Sewerage Department Director Gary Brown said the department has been putting out 1,000 door hangers daily, alerting customers they have 10 days to take action on unpaid water bills or be cut off.

Since the process began May 3, he added, about 50 percent of the tagged property owners have come in and made a payment or enrolled in a plan, avoiding shut off.

During the six-day period between May 3 and Monday, 3,017 customers came in, made payments or joined an assistance program and avoided shut off. The department received 765 bill payments and had 360 individuals enroll for help, based on new figures released late Monday.

Brown said 1,860 customers had service interrupted, but 85 percent of them had service restored within 24 hours.

Additionally, Brown said, 1,892 new payment plan arrangements have been made, 1,288 of those before service was to be cut off, and 604 others joined plans after service was turned off.

“The message we are trying to send is don’t wait to get a door hanger,” Brown told The News. “Open your bill and make a payment or get on a payment plan and make a payment so you avoid an interruption in service.”

Brown is expected to share the statistics Tuesday with the City Council one week after the water department resumed residential shut-offs for delinquent accounts.

DWSD officials have estimated about 20,000 customers have defaulted on payments and are subject to shut off.

The water department began residential and commercial shut-offs in 2014 in an attempt to crack down on widespread delinquencies amid the city's financial crisis. The move prompted criticism from the United Nations, celebrities and others.

Water officials have said that 155,000 of DWSD’s 175,000 residential account holders are current on bills or in payment plans. The average monthly bill is about $75.

Within the next 90 days, DWSD plans to add 30 kiosks throughout the city to assist customers in making payments, officials said.

The department this month will also be sending out newly designed water bills that officials say will make it easier for customers to understand their services, balances and any past-due notifications.

On Monday, the department announced it will offer express service at its east side customer care center at 13303 E. McNichols. Officials say the facility can accommodate three times more customers than its other two centers.

DWSD customer care representatives are available to work with residents who have past due balances and who want to make payments and payment plan arrangements to avoid shut-offs, officials said.

DWSD is working with more than 200 customers a day across its three centers in an attempt to avoid disruptions in water service.

For customers who have had their water turned off, DWSD staff at all locations are immediately directing them to a cashier, rather than wait in line behind customers seeking to enter a payment plan, officials said.

Once a payment has been received, the customer’s address is added to a list for immediate restoration, which typically occurs within 24 hours, or sooner.

Customers who are having trouble paying their water bills are being asked to contact DWSD to enroll in one of its two assistance programs — the WRAP Fund or the 10/30/50 plan.

Under the WRAP Fund, customers who are at 150 percent of the poverty level or below can 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. The program is being administered by the Wayne Metropolitan Community Action Agency.

Separately, in the 10/30/50 plan, customers pay a minimum of 10 percent of their past due amount, with the remaining amount to be paid over 12 to 24 months.