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"We want the shut-offs to end. Period. End of story," said DeMeeko Williams of the Detroit Water Brigade. (Photo: Detroit Water Brigade/Facebook)

"We want the shut-offs to end. Period. End of story," said DeMeeko Williams of the Detroit Water Brigade. (Photo: Detroit Water Brigade/Facebook)

Calls for Obama Intervention as Detroit Threatens Water Shut-Off for Another 25,000 Residents

Local activists say city payment plan is 'unsustainable' and unjust

Lauren McCauley

Despite international outcry over a previous push to shut off water to its poorest citizens, the city of Detroit on Monday will begin to hand out notices to as many as 25,000 residents, threatening once again to turn off the taps.

The warnings will be hung on the doors of households where water bills are at least 60 days late or exceed $150 in overdue payments. Residents will only be given 10 days to pay their bill or sign up for a payment assistance plan.

However, despite the city's attempt to increase assistance to the lowest income customers, advocates say that these efforts don't go far enough.

"They can send out the notices, but really are not reaching out to the people," DeMeeko Williams, of the grassroots humanitarian group the Detroit Water Brigade, told the Detroit News.

"We want the shut-offs to end. Period. End of story," added Williams.

After the initial wave of mass shut-offs began in December 2014, the city was met with fierce resistance including a damning statement from the United Nations, which accused Detroit of violating the human right to water.

"If people are already unable to pay their bills, how could you expect them to keep up if you add past-due payments on top of that?"
—Maureen Taylor, Michigan Welfare Rights Organization

Under the city's new payment option, dubbed the "10-30-50" plan, overdue households enter a two-year agreement by first paying down 10 percent of their past-due balance, while at the same time covering their monthly bill. If a payment is missed, the resident will then have to pay 30 percent of their balance; after that, 50 percent of the balance. If a fourth payment is missed, residents face having their water shut off.

However, a recent survey by the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan found that nearly all of the customers signed up for the plan are now 60 days overdue.

ACLU reporter Curt Guyette writes:

According to the most recent numbers provided by Detroit’s Department of Water and Sewerage, 24,743 residential customers are enrolled in a payment plan. Of that number, 24,450 are at least 60 days past due on their payments—meaning that their homes are in danger of losing water service once the city resumes shutoffs.    

Stated another way, only 300 of the 24,743 customers put on the mayor’s payment plan were able to keep up with their payments and ensure their water will keep flowing.    

"You didn’t need to be a rocket scientist to figure out what the outcome would be," Maureen Taylor, chair of the Michigan Welfare Rights Organization, told Guyette. "If people are already unable to pay their bills, how could you expect them to keep up if you add past-due payments on top of that? The plan was fundamentally flawed from the beginning, and we said that."

MWRO has started a petition calling on U.S. President Barack Obama to intervene against the renewed shut-offs, which the group says target "low-income families and have affected the homes of children, the disabled, and our honorable veterans."

With some families forced to pay as much as 30 percent of their monthly income to restore their water supply, the petition charges that the city's payment options are "unsustainable" and unjust.

"No mother or father should have to choose between paying a water bill and meeting their family’s other basic needs," reads the statement. "The crisis is growing, and Detroit's families need your help."

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