DETROIT (WXYZ) — As COVID-19 spread hitting Detroit hard at the beginning of 2020, it became clear. Having access to water to clean your hands could be a matter of life and death.
Governor Gretchen Whitmer and local leaders took action putting a moratorium on water shut-offs through the end of the year.
The city then used CARES Act, state, local, and philanthropic funding to address the problem. Detroit spent about $22 million on plumbing repairs and payment assistance, benefiting about 50,000 water customers. It restored service at about 1,300 homes.
Mayor Mike Duggan says that is only the beginning.
“We are putting a moratorium on all water shutoffs due to lack of funds for the next 2 years,” said Mayor Duggan.
The mayor says the next step is to work on a permanent solution for water affordability. He says it needs to be a national solution.
“The federal government currently actively prevents gas and electric shutoffs of low-income Americans through the Low Income Heating Assistance Program (LIHEAP),” Mayor Duggan said. “But there is no comparable program for water bills. We’re going to be part of a national coalition to support the efforts of Senator Gary Peters to extend utility shutoff support for water.”
Detroit has joined a coalition of cities from around the country to create a policy platform on national water affordability initiatives focusing primarily on LIWAP (Low- Income Water Assistance Program) and include plumbing repairs.
The United States Census Bureau estimates that about 36% of Detroiters are living in poverty.
The city says it has learned that sometimes the issue is not the cost of the water, but the inability of residents to afford plumbing repairs that help them use an affordable amount of water. After helping residents pay for repairs, the city saw an increase in people paying their bills.
“It is remarkable. We went from about 75% of Detroit’s paying their bills to 92 or 93% paying today,” said Mayor Duggan.