Last month, VICE News went to Detroit, where many disadvantaged residents behind on payments were having their water shut off by the city's water utility. But on July 21, the day we arrived, the Detroit Water and Sewage Department (DWSD) announced a moratorium on shutting off water to customers.
Residents and activists hoped that would be an end to a policy that had reportedly left thousands of people without water. But today, the DWSD once began shutting off water to delinquent customers. In an official statement, the DWSD stated that they currently have 25,000 customers on payment plans, but will continue the shutoffs for delinquent customers.
About half of Detroit's residents live below the poverty line, and they are among the hardest hit.
"Our goal is keep our customers in service, and there's a number of customers that have affordability issues," Darryl Latimer, chief customer service officer and deputy director of the DWSD, told VICE News last month. "But we need to know who those customers are so we can assist. It's not our goal to deny anyone access to water — however, we have to get our delinquent accounts under control because there's a number of customer that are able to pay. But they have just chosen not to pay."
It's impossible to say just how many people have had their water turned off; the DWSD won't release figures. Earlier this year, however, the utility did say that it was owed $118 million, and that about half its customers were delinquent. Still, Latimer said he doesn't believe thousands of people have had their water shut off.
"Since [activists] said there are thousands of people, identify them and bring them to us," he said. "It's just not accurate."
It's difficult to ascertain which neighborhoods in the city are the hardest hit by the shut-offs because the DWSD won't disclose where exactly it's shutting off water. When we asked Latimer about reports that Ford Field, Joe Louis Arena, and city-owned golf courses owed the city hundreds of thousands of dollars while not having their water shut off, he said it was not accurate information.
A few weeks ago, control of the water department was handed back to the mayor and taken out of the emergency manager's hands. Additionally, the DWSD implemented a 10-point plan to help residents, pledging that it would notify customers who are about to be shut off in a timely manner, provide financial assistance, and implement affordable payment plans for those who are delinquent.
That said, if the DWSD continues to shut off water at the same rate it said it was before the moratorium, up to 3,000 more people will have their water shut off by the end of this week.
Follow Neha Shastry on Twitter: @NehaShastry