2 Muslim groups' donations to help pay for water bills

Mark Hicks
The Detroit News

Two Muslim groups are contributing $100,000 to efforts aimed at helping Detroit residents with their water bills.

The Michigan Muslim Community Council and Islamic Relief USA are donating the money to the Detroit Water Fund — a partnership between the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department and the United Way for Southeastern Michigan — and Wayne Metropolitan Community Action Agency, which offers aid for utility bills and other services to low-income people.

"We are hoping this is going to be contagious," Anwar Khan, CEO of Islamic Relief USA, said in a statement. "The most important thing we have is not our money, it's our energy and our enthusiasm, and it's our people. … Also, it is important to us in our faith to help our neighbors. It is a part of our faith to help our friends."

The organizations were joined by Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan and members of the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department to accept the donations. Each gave $50,000, earmarked to aid those who have past-due accounts with the water department, officials announced during a press conference Wednesday morning.

"When our neighbor is without water, that affects all of us," Sue McCormick, director of the water department, said in a statement. "I salute the MMCC and Islamic Relief USA for helping to further empower Detroiters who are in need. When we all work together to alleviate a problem and help Detroiters keep their water on — we all win."

Michael Brennan, president/CEO of the United Way for Southeastern Michigan, added: "The partnership between the MMCC, Islamic Relief USA, DWSD and Wayne Metro creates real impact for families in our region."

Muzammil Ahmed, chairman of the Michigan Muslim Community Council, said the water crisis of the summer had given the city a black eye and that giving water is the greatest form of charity for Muslims. He thanked Duggan and Council President Brenda Jones for working toward a solution to the water crisis.

Details of the donation followed the Water Fund announcing Tuesday it is expanding the eligibility for Detroit residents who are behind on their bills.

Customers who owe up to $2,000 could qualify for as much as a 25 percent match on their overdue amount if they pay down 10 percent, according to the city. The Water Fund also will provide the match for up to 12 months if monthly payments are made, officials said.

The matching funds previously were available to those who had an outstanding balance of $1,000 or less.

The expanded eligibility means more than 30,000 customers with outstanding balances have the chance to apply for funding — available on a first-come, first-serve basis — if they meet low-income requirements, officials said.

To qualify, customers must meet certain criteria, including being enrolled in a low income self-sufficiency plan and having income at or below 150 percent of the federal poverty level. That means a family of four can't have annual income above $35,775.

The fund was launched in August as part of Duggan's 10-point plan to improve customer service and expand resources for water customers. More than 25,000 city water accounts were shut off last year after an aggressive campaign to collect from those more than two months or more than $150 behind on their payments.

Since its inception, the water fund has received more than $2 million in donations and approved 1,236 customers, according to the city.

In July, a regional water authority will go into effect. The Great Lakes Water Authority is designed to maintain Detroit's ownership of the system while giving suburbs more of a stake in its operations. Plans call for the city to lease infrastructure to suburban communities in exchange for a 40-year, $50 million annual fee and an annual $4.5 million payment assistance fund. The Detroit Water and Sewerage Department will continue operations in Detroit and be responsible for Detroit billings, collections and debts. The authority would handle operations in the outlying communities.

The $4.5 million — plus the existing donations — will go a long way to helping Detroiters unable to pay their water bills, Duggan said Wednesday. Donations such as the ones made Wednesday help residents through this bridge period, he said.

"I will be very pleased in July when we won't have to rely on charitable contributions," he said. Instead, aid will be built in to the system to help the neediest of residents.

The money would come from revenue generated by the existing water rates for Detroiters, as well as suburban users. Wholesale rate increases passed on to communities will be capped at 4 percent over the next 10 years, officials said. Municipalities could still tack on more to cover costs to supply water to suburban residents. The $50 million could only be used for Detroit water-related repairs, maintenance and improvements.

To confirm eligibility, call (313) 267-8000. To make a donation or apply, go to www.DetroitWaterFund.org.

For assistance from the Wayne Metropolitan Community Action Agency, call (313) 388-9799.