News Feature | August 6, 2014

Detroit Water Shutoffs: Delinquent Ratepayers Get A Hand From Crowdfunding

Sara Jerome

By Sara Jerome

Detroit Water Shutoffs: Delinquent Ratepayers Get A Hand From Crowdfunding

Delinquent Detroit ratepayers are getting a little help from their friends. 

A volunteer group called the Detroit Water Project is matching volunteer donors with Detroit ratepayers to make sure delinquent customers get their bills paid. "We match people in Detroit to 3,000+ donors for direct water bill help," the organization says. 

The site seizes on "crowdfunding" to pay down delinquent accounts, which abound in the bankrupt city. 

 "Nearly half of the residents of Detroit owe more than $150 on their water bills, and either have had or are in danger of having their water shut off on them due to their delinquency. Although the city has recently announced that it will be holding off on shutting off any more customers for the next few weeks in order to give some a chance to settle their bills, they have done little to actually address the reasons why they cannot pay, or offer much help to these residents to get their bills up to date," Care 2, an activism site, reported

The founders of Detroit Water Project met on Twitter and worked together to set up a donation platform. 

"The campaign developed out of a Twitter discussion between Tiffani Ashley Bell and Kristy Tillman, who wanted to find a way to help Detroiters with their water issues. Both were skeptical of campaigns taking donations on behalf of residents facing water shutoffs, and wanted to create a program that would put donors directly in touch with the water department," CBS Detroit reported. Bell is in California and Tillman is in Boston. 

The project got off the ground quickly. 

"They launched the Detroit Water Project just hours after their initial Twitter chat and before the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department's postponement [of water service shutoffs] was announced. The project initially sought out people who needed help. Soon, their website added a field for donors," the Washington Post reported

Volunteers are coming out in droves. It has already located at least 1,400 donors, the report said, citing organizers. 

"We've been able to completely pay down 16 accounts who owed as much as $600," Bell said in the report. "Many donations are in the range of $20-100 with some donations going as high as $2,500."

Detroit's water department shut off service for thousands of delinquent ratepayers this year. It drew heated public criticism and major protests for this policy. 

"The water department stopped service to about 7,200 homes and businesses in June, compared to 1,570 in the same month last year. Water was restored to 43 percent after customers paid or worked out payment plans, though thousands more have been affected since last fall," the Associated Press reported.   

For more on policy and politics, check out Water Online's Regulations & Legislation Solution Center.