Detroit Water Department places 15-Day moratorium on shutoffs
28th July 2014 · 0 Comments
By Zenobia Jeffries
(Special from The Michigan Citizen and New America Media) — The Detroit Water and Sewerage Department announced July 21 it will suspend its controversial water shutoffs for 15 days.
The shutoffs, called a violation of human rights by the U.N., have gained national and international attention. The announcement came following Federal Judge Steven Rhodes’ order for the department and Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr to come up with a solution to what he called an embarrassment to the city and the bankruptcy proceeding.
In court, July 15, Judge Rhodes, who presides over Detroit’s bankruptcy case, told DWSD deputy Director Darryl Latimer that there was more the department could do in assisting those who were facing shutoffs.
“There is much more you can do, and I encourage you to work with community leaders to come up with a whole list of initiatives to resolve this problem,” Rhodes told Latimer.
Latimer had told Rhodes the department was “reaching out to activists; mailing inserts letting you know what we offer; doing different things with the website; using the media as a platform.”
According to Latimer, the average water bill delinquency was $540 and had accumulated anywhere from 90 to 120 days. The average bill for a Detroit residential customer is $40 to $50 month.
DWSD’s new shutoff program implemented in late March occurs when a customer has a past due amount that exceeds $150 or the bill is over 60 days past due. A total of 14,000 shutoffs have taken place since March, where 1,500-3,000 customers have been shut off per week. DWSD says many customers have had service restored, some within 24 hours.
In a community meeting with the Rosedale Park residents July 17, DWSD representatives told residents there would not be a moratorium on foreclosures. DWSD sub-contractor Charlie Fleetham also told residents there would not be an implementation of an affordability plan because it was against the law.
“It’s prohibited by state law. By state law, DWSD can only charge the cost of service, and if they implemented an affordability rate, they would be sued immediately, the next day by Oakland County and many other suburban wholesale customers, Fleetham said.
You can vote to change the law, he added.
Activists have called for a moratorium on the shutoffs and the implementation of the water affordability plan (see: www.fsconline.com/downloads/Papers/2005%2001%20Detroit%20Water.pdf) drafted and submitted to the DWSD in 2005.
At the July 17 meeting, DWSD Chief Operating Officer Cheryl Porter said the department’s revenue has increased due to the shutoff program.
“Since we’ve engaged in the process, we’ve seen an increase in revenue which will address roll over costs,” Porter said. “We had to do something.”
So far, DWSD has collected nearly $2 million in 90-120 days, since the program began.
DWSD spokesperson Greg Eno says the department does not refer to the halt in shutoffs as a “moratorium.”
The “pause” in shutoffs, he says, is a result of Judge Rhodes’ request to present ideas that would “better inform” residents of available water programs, Eno told the Michigan Citizen.
He says residents should take the next 15 days to make arrangements with the department to prevent shutoffs because he does not foresee the time being extended or another opportunity to get their water service affairs in order without being subject to shutoff.
“It’s crucial (residents) take advantage … we want to help them,” Eno said, adding that instead of shutting off water over the next 15 days, the shutoff crew will be focused on “illegal usage of water.”
“We will be way more vigilant on people who are squatters or those who had their water turned back on following a shutoff,” says Eno.
This article originally published in the July 28, 2014 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.