people lining up
Residents wait for the opening of an enrollment event for the City of Detroit's Lifeline Plan, a water affordability program, at the Second Ebenezer Church on Aug. 9. (Photo courtesy of Detroit Water and Sewerage Department)

Detroiters enrolled in the city’s water affordability plan will start seeing new water rates in their September and October bills. 

This story also appeared in Detroit Free Press

More than 6,900 households have either applied or are enrolled in Detroit’s Lifeline Plan, which offers fixed monthly rates, between $18 to $56, based on income and how much water a household uses. The program caps water usage at 4,500 gallons a month. 

The Detroit Water and Sewerage Department and the Wayne Metropolitan Community Action Agency are hosting enrollment fairs where residents can learn more about the program, apply in person and provide feedback. 

Shama Mounzer, executive director of empowerment and integration services for Wayne Metro — the organization enrolling Detroiters — said that 2,615 clients are already enrolled, meaning they will see changes in their water bills in September. The majority of these residents transitioned from another payment plan called the Water Residential Assistance Program (WRAP). 

Eighty-three percent of these Detroiters could pay as low as $18 a month for their water, sewer and drainage bill because they would fall into the first tier of the program. That category is for households at or below 135% of the Federal Poverty Level, or $31,091 for a family of three. 

The second tier is capped at $43 a month and is for a three-person household making between $31,091 and $34,545. Families falling under the third level — or a three-person household earning between $34,545 and $46,060 — will max out at $56 a month. 

Last year, the average monthly bill for a residential customer was $81.62, according to DWSD.

Customers’ water usage must stay within 4,500 gallons a month in order to be billed a fixed rate. If a family’s income qualifies them for the program’s first tier and they end up using 6,000 gallons of water, their bill would be $38.06 instead of $18. 

DWSD has said the average three-person Detroit household uses between 2,300 to 3,000 gallons of water a month, citing the water department’s billing data. 

The plan would also erase arrears after enrollment.

As of Tuesday, Wayne Metro has received 4,356 applications for the program, Mounzer said. She projects that the vast majority of those clients will qualify for the program. But most people in this group will not see bill changes until October

“Due to the tremendous volume of enrollment some who applied may not see their first bill reflecting the Lifeline Plan until October,” said Bryan Peckinpaugh, a DWSD spokesperson, in an email Tuesday. 

Residents sign-in to learn about the the City of Detroit’s Lifeline Plan, a water affordability program, at the Fellowship Chapel on August 4. (Photo courtesy of Detroit Water and Sewerage Department)

Because of a new rate structure that went into effect Aug. 1, 70% of all residential customers in September will see a small decrease in their bill of about $2 on average, even if they are not enrolled in an affordability plan.

Wayne Metro is fielding an average of 464 calls a day and demand is high, Mounzer said. When the program first launched in July the organization was getting 700 calls a day. 

Peckinpaugh said the number of Detroiters who have applied to or are enrolled in the program so far is “already more than the number of households that were enrolled in WRAP on an annual basis, which at most was about 4,000 households in one year.” 

Advocates for years have been pushing for an affordability plan in Detroit and ways to address water shut offs. A pandemic-era moratorium on water shut offs is expected to lift Dec. 31 but residents enrolled in payment plans will not face a disconnection, according to DWSD. The Lifeline Plan is a pilot program and DWSD officials have said long-term funding is still necessary

To learn about the program and apply, Detroiters can attend an enrollment fair, go online to www.waynemetro.org/dwsdlifeline/ or call Wayne Metro at 313-386-9727.

Here are some upcoming enrollment events

  • District 6: Aug. 23 from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. at the First Latin Baptist Church 2004 Scotten St. 
  • District 7: Aug. 30 from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. at the Detroit Association of Black Organizations 12048 Grand River Ave. 
  • Citywide: Sept. 1 from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. at the Greater Grace Temple 23500 West Seven Mile Rd.
  • Citywide: Sept. 13 from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. at the Little Rock Historic Baptist Church 9000 Woodward Ave. 

Nushrat Rahman covers issues related to economic mobility for the Detroit Free Press and BridgeDetroit as a corps member with Report for America, an initiative of The GroundTruth Project.

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