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‘Detroit mayor’s water plan misses the mark’

By Zenobia Jeffries

The Michigan Citizen 

DETROIT — “Inadequate,” is how some Detroiters describe Mayor Mike Duggan’s plan to address the recent controversial water shutoffs

Mayor Mike Duggan announces 10-point plan Aug. 7 ZENOBIA JEFFRIES PHOTO

Mayor Mike Duggan announces 10-point plan Aug. 7 ZENOBIA JEFFRIES PHOTO

that have attracted international attention. 

At a press conference Aug. 7, Duggan listed 10 steps toward rectifying a problem initiated by the city’s emergency manager that left thousands of Detroit residents without running water. 

The mayor’s plan includes waiving turn-on and late payment fees; extending hours at payment and call centers and increasing staffing at call centers, improving shutoff notification, building neighborhood partnerships. 

Standing with Detroit Water and Sewerage officials, United Way and THAW staff, as well as supporters from the community, Duggan told the press had he received control of the city’s water department when he first asked (months ago), the massive shutoffs would not have happened. 

Duggan announced his plan to help residents stay current on their water bills just days after extending the moratorium on the shutoffs until Aug. 25.  

But the mayor’s plan for residents to stay current on their water bills misses the mark says Maureen Taylor of Michigan Welfare Rights Organization. 

“What is to become of those families who were already shutoff, and especially those who found a way to restore water access without going to the City for permission? Those households that have exhausted all of their income resources, are they to be denied access to water? What is to become of those seasonal, temporary working families who stayed in Michigan hoping that things would improve economically? Why not institute a permanent moratorium that would represent progressive problem-solving?” asked Taylor.

Mayor Duggan told this reporter he’s confident the steps he laid out will alleviate many of the residents’ concerns and does not foresee complications. He says he will resume with the shutoffs Aug. 25. 

“You never say never. I’m confident; this plan is in place and going, and Aug. 25 we’re going to resume,” Duggan said.

In a joint press release MWRO and the People’s Water Board responded to the mayor’s plan.

“While the mayor’s plan is an effort to help people pay bills, it does not address the unfair fee structure forcing many Detroiters to pay as much as 20 percent of their income for water or the fact half the budget currently goes to banks to pay for outstanding debt. It provides limited financial support on a first-come-first-serve basis. It offers nothing for people beyond that unspecified limit,” the release read. “It offers some immediate relief to people, but the program does not grasp the dimensions of the crisis or the importance of developing policies that guarantee water as human right and a public trust.”

Tawana Petty with the People’s Water Board said, “We’re glad some people will get relief from crushing bills and the mayor is waiving turn-on fees. But this is a band aid on a deep wound, a problem he doesn’t seem to get.”

Former Councilwoman JoAnn Watson was in office when the city passed a resolution approving a water affordability plan in 2005.

Then President of Council Marianne Mahaffey and Watson, who initially worked on the plan as a lay person, met with citizens and other officials and attorneys statewide met much resistance from Victor Mercado, who was head of DWSD at that time.

Mercado allowed only $2.5 million of the $5 million in accumulated late fees to be used as an assistance fund for low-income residents.

She says the affordability plan put in place by council which used funds generated by late payment fees — $5 million at the time, should never have been stopped. 

“Where is that $5 million annually?” Watson asked.

She believes if those funds were being used, there wouldn’t be a need for a fundraiser to help low-income residents.

However, she says she’s happy about the intervention, but saddened city residents had to endure the massive shutoffs. 

“Hopefully it will be something that can help the people,” says Watson who questioned the mayor’s reason for not returning to the plan that was already in place and “working.”

“It grinds at my heart,” Watson told the Michigan Citizen. 

Watson credited the activism of protestors for bringing international attention to the issue. 

“I applaud those who stood for the rights of those who have been shut off,” she said. 

“The pressure needs to continue so citizens surrounded by the Great Lakes can have access to water to survive.” 

Duggan’s 10-point plan also includes:

  •  Simplifies getting into a payment plan for themselves or others, customers only need to present a valid state ID, with their payment. (Once a payment is made, service will be restored within 48 hours.)
  •  Cobo Water Fair August 23rd. A Water Affordability Fair will be held at Cobo Center Aug. 23 to give customers one last opportunity to connect with all of the DWSD and community resources available to them before the moratorium ends Aug. 25.
  •  Implement an Affordable Payment Plan. Any resident with a delinquent account can enter into a 24-month “10/30/50” payment plan by coming to their local DWSD Customer Care Center, showing a valid state ID and paying down only 10 percent of their past-due balance. (The previous down payment requirement was 30 percent of the past-due balance.) If a customer misses a payment, they can reapply for the program by putting down 30 percent of their past-due balance. A second missed payment will require a 50 percent down payment of their past-due amount. Any customer who misses a third payment will no longer be eligible for the payment plan.
  •  Provide financial assistance for low-income Detroit customers.  Starting Aug. 11, DWSD Customer Care Centers will begin processing applications for the Detroit Water Fund. By paying down only 10 percent of their past-due balance, eligible city residents will receive up to 25 percent assistance with their bill from the new Detroit Water Fund. DWSD has partnered with the United Way for Southeastern Michigan, which will prequalify residents. To be eligible for Detroit Water Fund assistance, customers must be Detroit residents who:
  •   Have an outstanding balance between $300 and $1000; and
  •   Maintain Average Water Usage for their household size; and
  •   Are either enrolled in DTE’s Low Income Self-Sufficiency Plan (LSP); or,
  •   Have income at or below 150 percent of the federal poverty level (for example, a family of four must have an annual income below $35,775).

This funding is available on a first-come-first-served basis and is subject to availability.

  •  Provide a clear way to give. Many people have offered to help Detroiters who are struggling to pay their water bills. There are several ways to donate to the Detroit Water Fund: online, by text message, by check or by phone. Details are available at www.DetroitWaterFund.org.

The DWSD has expanded hours at all of its Customer Care Centers, from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday – Friday (previously 8:30AM – 5:30 PM) and 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. on weekends (previously 9 a.m. – Noon) to make sure customer service agents are available at all times. The DWSD has also added staff to reduce wait times.\

DWSD has also expanded hours at its call center to 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily (previously 8:30 a.m.  to 5:30 p.m.) and 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. on weekends (weekend hours for the call center are new). Starting Aug. 18, the call center will have 50 percent more staff and new phone technology to better serve customers.

All DWSD Customer Care Centers are now open from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. and all centers have new Saturday hours from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m.  Locations are:

         Downtown Center, 735 Randolph

        Eastside Center, 13303 E. McNichols (West of Gratiot)

        Westside Center, 15600 Grand River (West of Greenfield)

The DWSD Customer Care Call Center is now open from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. weekdays and also has added the same Saturday hours as the walk-in centers of 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. The Call Center number is 313.267.8000.

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