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Detroit resumes water service shutoffs for cash-strapped residents

Published time: August 27, 2014 04:06
(L-R) Detroit water activists Tawana Petty, Priscilla Dziubek and Lou Novak stand outside City Hall to protest against the increase in water shutoffs for residential customers with unpaid bills during a rally in Detroit, Michigan July 24, 2014 (Reuters / Rebecca Cook)

(L-R) Detroit water activists Tawana Petty, Priscilla Dziubek and Lou Novak stand outside City Hall to protest against the increase in water shutoffs for residential customers with unpaid bills during a rally in Detroit, Michigan July 24, 2014 (Reuters / Rebecca Cook)

The City of Detroit has once again begun shutting off water service for residents who are months behind on their bills. The move comes as a 30-day moratorium on shut-offs ended on Monday.

According to theAssociated Press, the city was scheduled to have crews out on Tuesday in order to commence with the controversial shut-offs, which are expected to hit 420 customers at first. So far, it’s unknown how many residents have actually had their service canceled.

Detroit first began taking down water service in March, as thousands of residents were either months behind on their payments or owed hundreds of dollars. Between 15,000 and 19,000 customers had their water shut down since April, and almost 45 percent of all the city’s water accounts are classified as overdue.

Since the moratorium went into effect, however, Detroit officials say they have been able to enroll thousands of residents in payment plans that will help avert future cancellations. About 25,000 people have signed up for these plans, up from 17,000 just one month ago.

The city also extended customer service hours to ensure people waiting in line would be able to pay their bills and restore water service – something that now only requires people to pay 10 percent of their past-due balance. Before, the payment had to be at least 30 percent.

“We were able to go into our system and give them a few more days for a cushion,” Detroit Water and Sewage spokesperson Curtrise Garner said to CBS Detroit on Monday. “If they came down here today, they have a little more time. But people who did not come down at all — and they’re on the shutoff list — they will be shutoff.”

As noted by Reuters, Detroit – already struggling with bankruptcy problems – has a $90 million backlog in unpaid water bills, while the water system in general has a $6 billion debt.

Detroit’s original decision to cut off water service sparked criticism from around the country and the world, with some United Nations experts saying denying water to people could be a violation of human rights. Almost 40 percent of Detroit’s population lives below the poverty line, according to the AP.

“The goal of the shutoff moratorium was always to give as many city residents as possible a chance to get current with their water bill,” Mayor Mike Duggan said in a statement.

Although shut-offs have resumed, Duggan’s chief of staff, Alexis Wiley, told local WXYZ News that customers who still need help will have options.

“The Detroit Water Fund will remain a resource for our customers who may be facing shutoff, who may be having a hard time getting on top of their bill," he said. "We want them to know that they can still come in and apply for that even after the moratorium’s over.”