A moratorium on water shutoffs for residential customers in Detroit will end this month. Detroiters who are having trouble paying their water bills must enroll in one of the city’s assistance programs to avoid a water shutoff next year.
The state in March 2020 required utilities to restore water services and not conduct shutoffs for nonpayment, during the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. The city extended the moratorium later that year, vowing to find a long term solution to stop shutoffs for low-income Detroiters. Over the summer, the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department launched a payment plan based on income and usage to help people reduce their bills. That program, which began in August, is currently funded for 18 months.
“We do not want to shutoff any customer in the City of Detroit that does not have the ability to pay,” DWSD Director Gary Brown told the Free Press. “We want every customer that doesn’t have the ability to pay to simply ask for the help and they will enjoy the benefits of a water shutoff moratorium. It is the customers that can afford to pay and ignore asking DWSD for help that could be subjected to a service interruption.”
There are 60,000 residential accounts − out of 220,000 total residential customers − that are in delinquent status, the water department said, and the average balance they owe is $700.
Eligible Detroiters can apply for DWSD’s Lifeline Plan, which offers fixed monthly rates between $18 to $56, based on income and water use.
The $18-a-month 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 per year. Bills at the third tier max out at $56 for a three-person household earning between $34,545 and $46,060.
To avoid a shutoff, DWSD says residents who don’t qualify for the Lifeline program can pay their past due balance or enroll in the 10/30/50 payment plan, where customers can make a down payment and pay off their delinquent balance in installments. DWSD anticipates that the moratorium will continue for 18,000 to 20,000 customers who have applied for those programs or have already enrolled.
“We’re going to do an unprecedented amount of outreach to those customers before we attempt to − as a last resort − have a service interruption. … We have a team of people that are going door to door right now signing up customers making them aware of this information, and I think that once shutoffs begin, you’ll start to see a lot of delinquent accounts become current,” Brown said.
Beulah Walker, vice chief coordinator of the advocacy group Hydrate Detroit, which has been referring people to the Lifeline Plan, said the city needs to do more to advertise the program. Detroiters are told to go online to apply, which has contributed to some being reluctant to enroll, she said. They can also call Wayne Metropolitan Action Agency to apply. Door-to-door outreach, which DWSD has been doing, is important in reaching Detroiters about the program.
“When January 2023 comes, I don’t know what it’s going to look like,” Walker said.
She is worried about what her organization saw prior to the pandemic, when Detroiters who were unable to afford their water bills were disconnected. But Walker said it’s promising that residents have shutoff protection if they are enrolled in the Lifeline Plan.
The water department has held in-person enrollment fairs, attended community meetings to talk about the program, included notices in some water bills about the moratorium ending and options for assistance programs and canvassed households that were likely low-income, according to DWSD.
DWSD said 20,000 Detroit households are eligible for the Lifeline Plan. As of Nov. 25, more than 12,000 people have applied. More than 7,900 households have been enrolled and Wayne Metro − the organization administering the program − was processing roughly 4,300 applications.
There are more than 2,400 residential customers in the city’s 10/30/50 payment plan.
DWSD has used $7.5 million in state and federal dollars to cover arrears and bring down water bills through the Lifeline Plan. The water department has enough money to run the program for 18 months and is searching for permanent funding. Brown said DWSD is working with state, federal, congressional leaders and philanthropic foundations to identify permanent funding. With Democratic control in Lansing, the water department says it has an opportunity to secure statewide funding.
“I’m cautiously optimistic that we will find the funding to maintain this program,” Brown said.
Here’s what to know about programs available for Detroiters to avoid being disconnected:
Lifeline Plan: This program offers fixed monthly rates, between $18 to $56, based on income and how much water a household uses. It caps water usage at 4,500 gallons a month. For more information, call Wayne Metro at (313) 386-9727 or go to www.waynemetro.org/dwsdlifeline/.
10/30/50: This payment arrangement is for residents and businesses and there are no income restrictions. Customers have to make a down payment on their past due balance and the debt is then spread out up to 24 months along with their regular monthly bill. For more information, go to bit.ly/waterassistanceprograms or call DWSD at (313) 267-8000.