Detroit resumes shutting off water service
Aug. 26, 2014
DETROIT (AP) — Bankrupt Detroit resumed shutting off water to people who have not paid bills after a month long suspension that followed international and local criticism that the practice was unduly harsh to residents of one of the nation's poorest cities.
The city said it was scheduled to deny service to 420 customers Tuesday, although it was not immediately clear how many had actually been shut off.
Detroit filed the nation's largest-ever municipal bankruptcy last year and has struggled to manage basic services.
Nearly 45 percent of the city's 173,000 residential water accounts are considered past due, the city said. Some 25,000 customers have reached payment plans with the city.
"The new system seems to be working very well," said John Roach, spokesman for Mayor Mike Duggan.
That new system includes simplifying payment plans so that customers only need to present a valid state of Michigan identification. It also waives service restoration fees and late payment penalties while extending operating hours for payment centers.
Only 10 percent of past-due balances now are required to enter a payment plan to have water restored. The previous down-payment was 30 percent.
The city stepped up action in March against customers 60 days behind on paying bills or owing more than $150. More than 19,000 residential customers have been shut off since then, the city said.
The move drew international reaction as some groups appealed to the United Nations to help poor residents. Three U.N. experts responded in June that the shutoffs could constitute a violation of the human right to water. A series of protests and a march downtown also were held.
Water service disconnections were suspended July 21 and a moratorium on the disconnections expired Monday.
Water to Sherita Melton's east side home was shut off about two months ago. The 31-year-old hair stylist entered into a plan Monday that required her to make an initial payment of $71.83 on her $718 bill. She also has to make $25 per month installments.
"The hair business was moving slow for me," Melton said after her service was restored Tuesday morning. "I was having a hard time keeping up (on payments)," she said.
The city's water system has about $6 billion in debt that's covered by revenue from bill payments. As of July 1, more than $89 million was owed on past due accounts.
Detroit is one of the poorest cities in the nation with some 38 percent of the population living below the poverty line, according census bureau figures.
"It makes sense for residents and the water department to enter into payment plans," said Mary Grant, a researcher in the Baltimore office of Food & Water Watch. "We're just concerned they just might not be enough for every household, for people living in poverty."
The organization was among several that wrote about the plight of Detroit's water customers to the United Nations.
City crews also were restoring service to homes listed as being disconnected, but water department worker Chester Clemons found that seven houses on his list of about 10 already had their water on.
"Which normally tells us that it's been turned on for some type of illegal usage," Clemons said Tuesday.
Running water illegally carries a $250 fine for the first offense, $500 for the second and $660 for the third.