News Feature | April 18, 2018

Nearly 18K Detroit Homes Face Shutoff Threat

Sara Jerome

By Sara Jerome,

Detroit plans to resume water shutoffs next month, and thousands of city residents could be affected.

“About 17,461 Detroit households are at risk for water shutoffs next month when the city's water department resumes its controversial program,” The Detroit Free Press reported

“The potential shutoffs have angered some local activists who argue the city should instead create a comprehensive affordability plan to help prevent service interruptions altogether,” the report said.

Detroit began an aggressive shut-off campaign in 2014 after the city went bankrupt, prompting protests that made the national news. After the city shut off water service for thousands of residents, the United Nations condemned the city’s actions as a human rights violation, according to Michigan Live.

In subsequent years, the city repeated the same approach.

“Last April, there were 17,995 customers at risk of water shut-offs, a figure that dropped to 9,916 by May and 3,194 by July, according to the water department. In April 2016, 23,047 households were at risk,” The Detroit News reported.

The city will revisit its unpopular strategy again this year.

“The Water and Sewerage Department plans to begin visiting homes on May 1 with door hangers warning of shut-offs if those customers don’t take steps to resolve their outstanding water bills,” The Detroit News reported.

Water and Sewerage Director Gary Brown described the city’s history with shut offs, per The Free Press.

"When I got here, 50,000 people were at risk of being shut off and 44,000 were actually shut off," he said. "The United Nations was here, people were picketing, and rightly so, saying this was inhumane and unfair."

The viability of water shutoffs is a timely issue in the water sector because affordability is one of the greatest challenges facing utilities and ratepayers. In a recent study, researchers found that water may become unaffordable for one-third of U.S. households in the next four years.