The city of Detroit may shut off water in 17,461 households next month.
Water and Sewage Director Gary Brown told the Detroit Free Press the average past due amount is $633. He expects the number of at-risk households will decline significantly by May because, by then, he believes many will have set up payment plans with the city.
Historically, Water and Sewage has made at least three attempts at notifying residents before shutting their water off. This year the department will make four. Brown says the department has also improved options and payment plans for residents struggling to pay their bills, although he recognizes the road to affordability is still a work in progress.
“We’re trying to be compassionate about it but at the same time I’m bound by law to collect the services that are rendered,” Brown said.
Last week, Detroit City Council approved a $7.8-million dollar contract with Homrich Wrecking to conduct water shutoffs through June 30, 2021.
Water shutoffs sparked international controversy back in 2014, when Detroit turned off services in over 30,000 homes for nonpayment. In 2015, that number declined to 15,461 but then increased to over 28,000 shutoffs in 2016. Last year, there were 17,689 shutoffs due to delinquent accounts, a 20 percent drop from the year before.
Some activists argue the city should focus its time and resources on an encompassing affordability plan in an effort to stop water shutoffs completely.
The crisis has caught the attention of United Nations officials since 2014, and the Michigan League of Conservation Voters tweeted Monday morning: “Water isn’t ‘nice to have,’ it’s a basic human right. Everyone deserves safe, affordable drinking water.”
Water isn't a "nice to have," it's a basic human right. Everyone deserves safe, affordable drinking water. It's time for #mileg to lead in crafting a bold, comprehensive plan to address our #MichiganWaterCrisishttps://t.co/CbC7D17Xvu
— Michigan LCV (@MichiganLCV) March 26, 2018
The City will start notifying at-risk households in mid-April, and water shutoffs are expected to resume by the end of the month.