Advertisement

You will be redirected to the page you want to view in  seconds.

Demonstrators protest against the Detroit water department Friday, July 18, 2014. The city has disconnected water to thousands of residents who are delinquent with their bills. / Joshua Lott, Getty Images

DETROIT -- This troubled city, which owes billions to its creditors, is facing increasing criticism for shutting off water service to homeowners who owe as little as $150.

Earlier this year, the city's Water and Sewerage Department launched an aggressive campaign to collect more than $90 million from more than 90,000 delinquent accounts. The department shut off water to more than 7,500 customers in April and May and is prepared to shut off as many as 3,000 more customers per week if customers don't pay or sign up for a payment plan.

The effort has sparked a backlash from the public. About 30 protesters gathered Friday and blocked the entrance to a facility used by city contractors who've been shutting off customers' water. Police arrested nine people.

Other protesters sang "Water is a human right, we shall not be moved" as those arrested were being taken away.

Meanwhile, in downtown Detroit, about 1,000 shouting, banner-carrying and flag-waving marchers shouted slogans blaming Wall Street banks and predatory mortgage lenders for causing the poverty that, they say, has left thousands of Detroiters facing water shutoffs.

Some chants blamed Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder and the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department for denying water to the poor.

"This is a humanitarian crisis in the making," said Michelle Mahon, 42, of Cleveland, a registered nurse and field organizer for the National Nurses United union, which organized the march downtown. "As nurses, it's our duty to act when we see a community in danger."

The shutoff has also prompted a rebuke from Steven Rhodes, the judge hearing the city's municipal bankruptcy case.

"Your shutoff program has created a lot of anger in the city and a lot of hardship and bad publicity the city does not need," Rhodes told the department's deputy director, Darryl Latimer, on Tuesday.

Rhodes wants the department back in court next week to discuss alternatives to the shutoffs.

Department officials said the effort is needed to avoid raising water rates on customers who do pay their bills. Water rates for Detroiters rose 8.7% this year, in part to cover unpaid bills from other Detroit residents.

"People who live in Detroit are paying for people who won't pay and it's not fair," spokesman Bill Johnson said. "No one who faces a legitimate financial hardship will be denied water service."

Johnson said that since the department ramped up shutoff efforts, payments on delinquent accounts have skyrocketed. Collections in April, May and June are averaging double what they were in the same period in 2012 and almost four times what they were last year, when collection efforts had slowed.

"They are paying," he said.

But some residents who have been shut off said the city is squeezing some of its poorest residents.

"You have residents who owe hundreds and businesses that owe thousands," said Joe Link, whose water service was shut off briefly in May. "Why wouldn't you go after the businesses first."

Link, a steelworker and lifelong Detroit resident, said he owed about $334 on an overdue bill when he worked out a payment plan with the city to catch up. He acknowledges that he was five days behind on one of his payments in May, but said he was waiting to get a paycheck.

He saw a contractor pull up on his street and shut off service to at least six neighbors before turning off his. He approached the shut-off crew with a copy of his payment plan, but they still shut off his water. He had it restored later that day, but only after coming up with $160.

"It's a money grab," he said.

Ann Rall, a volunteer with the Michigan Welfare Rights Organization, one of the sponsors of Friday's protest, said her group wants the water department to adopt a water affordability plan, which would cap water bills at between 2% and 3% of a person's income. "The principle is that water is not a commodity, it's a human right," she said.

Wisely also reports for the Detroit Free Press.



Copyright 2014usatoday

Read the original story: Detroit faces heat over water shutoffs

More In

test

Real Deals

Flip, shop and save on specials from your favorite retailers in central Ohio.

GET DEALS | COUPONS

Things To Do

SAT
25
SUN
26
MON
27
TUE
28
WED
29
THU
30
FRI
31

CLASSIFIEDS

Classifieds from across Central Ohio
Lancaster
Chillicothe
Newark
Marion
Bucyrus
Mansfield
Zanesville
Coshocton

Weeklies & Shoppers

10TV Headlines

Dispatch Headlines

METROMIX