Officials: 400 Detroit water customers disconnected
Detroit — About 400 Detroit water customers have had service disconnected since a controversial shutoff program resumed last week for delinquent accounts, the department’s top officials said.
But Detroit Water and Sewerage Department Director Gary Brown told Detroit’s City Council Tuesday morning that more than 90 percent of disconnected customers were restored within 24 hours. And 900 in the at-risk group have since come in and entered into payment plans.
Brown was called to the panel’s Tuesday formal session after it was revealed last week that nearly 18,000 households were at risk for shutoff. The water department began disconnecting some accounts on Wednesday for customers who had received a final 10-day notice, Brown said.
Council President Brenda Jones told Brown after learning of 18,000 customers facing cutoff she was “shocked to hear it,” arguing “I did not get a heads-up.”
Council member Mary Sheffield added the number of customers eligible for shutoff is a “sad day” and “reminder of where we are as a city.” Low-income residents, she said, are often left out of the picture.
“The department has a long way to go. Eighteen thousand is too much, even though 900 went into payment plans,” Sheffield told Brown. “...There are actually people behind those numbers.”
Last week, the water department said 17,995 households are vulnerable to having their water turned off. But residents who contact the water department prior to their scheduled shutoffs to make a payment or enter into an assistance plan will avoid being cut off.
When residents are notified, about 90 percent get into a plan and avoid being shut off, Brown said.
The number of delinquent accounts is down from the 24,302 facing a service interruption last April, according to water department figures. In April 2014, 40,000 were eligible for shutoff.
As of Monday, 17,300 residential households and 700 commercial properties are at risk for an interruption to water service, according to a Tuesday afternoon note from the water department.
No matter the number, he said, the city won’t be shutting off 18,000 accounts. Many will come in and respond to the notices, Brown said, adding commercial accounts are targeted first.
“We make the commercial accounts the priority,” he said. “They are where the big meters are. They are for-profit organizations.”
In March 2015, Detroit launched its Water Residential Assistance Program, or WRAP, a regional assistance fund created as part of the Great Lakes Water Authority forged through Detroit’s bankruptcy.
The program was created nearly two years after Detroit’s water department initiated a controversial shutoff campaign for widespread unpaid commercial and residential water accounts amid its financial crisis.
WRAP is designed to help qualifying customers in Wayne, Oakland and Macomb counties who are at or below 150 percent of the federal poverty level — which equates to $36,450 for a family of four — by covering one-third of the cost of their average monthly bill and freezing overdue amounts.
Nearly $5 million has been dedicated to the program since last March. There are 5,766 Detroit households enrolled, according to figures provided Wednesday by the water department. The retention rate for those enrolled is 90 percent.
“We do have several million available for the assistance program,” Brown said Tuesday, adding for those that need help, “it’s available.”
Water officials have also said the department’s outreach and assistance efforts have been successful, with the number of customers facing potential service interruption at less than half of what it was three years ago. The number of residents in payment plans rose from 12,000 to 44,000 in the last three years, water department figures show.
Residents can pay online at detroitmi.gov/dwsd, by phone with a credit card at (313) 267-8000 or in person with cash, check or credit card. There are also 28 payment kiosks in and around the city available for Detroit residents to pay water and energy bills. About 5,000 water payments have been made so far on the kiosks, Brown said.