Mar 31, 2014
The Detroit Water and Sewerage Department (DWSD) announced it was ramping up an “aggressive” campaign to shut off water service to 1,500 to 3,000 households with delinquent water bills weekly. More than fifteen hundred families a week shut off – what an attack!
There are more than 150,000 delinquent household accounts out of around 300,000 – more than half. Similarly, almost half of the commercial accounts in the city are delinquent.
The DWSD and the media portray this as a problem of people trying to get out of paying their bills. A specialist for the department stated cynically, “We’re trying to shift the behavioral payment patterns of our customer base ....”
What’s wrong is the behavior of the city. Residents’ water meters often don’t work. When the DWSD installs a new meter, people wind up receiving a huge bill they cannot afford to pay. Or the bills are simply wrong and the department ignores the protest.
If there are this many unpaid bills, it’s due to a combination of poverty and problems the water department itself created. So fine, if they don’t want delinquent bills, make sure all the meters are working. Start everybody over at a zero balance.
But that is not what they’re doing. Not only that – some of the biggest outstanding bills are from a few big companies, and their bills would undoubtedly total up to as much as most of the residential and smaller commercial accounts. But rather than go after the big-time delinquents, the Water Department plans to go after anyone more than two months behind in their bills or owing just $150, about two times the average monthly bill. Many of these are poor people for whom $150 is hard to pay. They also plan to restrict the ability of people to pay back what they owe in installments.
The aim behind this “aggressive campaign”: it is one more way to take land the developers want by driving people who cannot afford to pay out of the city.
Access to water should be a right, not a privilege. Stop the water shut-offs to poor people! Stop the land grab!