News Feature | May 8, 2017

27,000 Detroit Homes Have Had Water Shut Off

Sara Jerome

By Sara Jerome,

Detroit officials continually argue that the city is working to refine its water shutoff policies and keep water turned on in more homes, but the number of shutoffs actually increased last year.

A new analysis of water shutoffs in the cash-strapped city provides insight on a policy that earned the city condemnation from the United Nations a few years ago. The investigation by Bridge Magazine, a publication of the nonprofit think tank Center for Michigan, relied on Freedom of Information Act requests to obtain shutoff data at the level of city blocks.

“Last year, more than 27,000 Detroit homes had water shut off because of what the city says were unpaid bills. In some neighborhoods, 1-in-5 homes lost water access,” Michigan Radio reported, citing the analysis.

Detroit began an aggressive shut-off campaign in 2014 after the city went bankrupt. The United Nations condemned the city’s actions as a human rights violation, according to Michigan Live. The city has since touted assistance programs intended to help customers keep their water running.

But Bridge’s new analysis shows that “residential shutoffs last year jumped 18 percent over the previous year, to 27,552.”

“It’s a staggering tally, even for a city where unflattering numbers are the norm. And the numbers contradict a narrative repeated by Detroit officials for years that the shutoffs were an attempt to quickly get residents into compliance and then would decline,” the report said.

“In the three years since the campaign began, the city has had 83,000 residential shutoffs, city records show,” according to the report.

Shutoffs may increase in the coming months as weather gets warmer.

“Another 18,000 residential customers could be next, following the April announcement that shutoffs suspended during cold months are resuming,” the report said.

The Bridge analysis compared the shutoff data to Census data for housing occupancy, home ownership, and poverty rates, according to Michigan Live. The results were surprising, the report said.

“While shutoffs are rare in affluent neighborhoods (Palmer Woods only had 12 total last year), not all the city’s poorest neighborhoods or those with the most renters had the highest rates of disconnection,” the report said.

“In East English Village, though, more than 18 percent of occupied homes were disconnected, even though the neighborhood had lower poverty rates than the city average of about 40 percent,” the report said.

To read more about how water utilities handle their finances visit Water Online’s Funding Solutions Center.