Michigan has made international news on a few occasions over controversies surrounding one of the most basic necessity of life, water. Before Flint took center stage over lead-contaminated drinking water, Detroit received a lot of negative press for water shutoffs in homes of poor residents who couldn’t afford to pay to have the service turned back on. While the story of shutoffs seemed to fade over the past several months, the city has continued to cut water to many homes while delinquent businesses have largely continued to receive a pass from the city. That’s according to the Detroit News, which published an investigative report on water shutoffs late last week.
Here’s part of the story from reporter Joel Kurth:
Businesses and government-owned properties owe nearly twice as much as residences, $41 million compared with $26 million for homes, but only 680 were shut off in 2015, according to records obtained by The Detroit News through the Freedom of Information Act.
It’s a discrepancy that outrages neighborhood activists, who say residents have unfairly borne the brunt of a two-year shut-off campaign on delinquent accounts. Some of the biggest debts are on government-owned properties such as the Detroit Housing Commission, the Detroit Reentry Center prison, Belle Isle and the city’s golf courses, according to the records.
“The shutoffs themselves never really did stop,” even though the story faded from news cycles, says Kruth. “I think the big question for me always is how many people have been shutoff and their water’s not back on.”
Kurth says DWSD director Gary Brown acknowledges this is a problem that can’t continue.
“I do think they’re trying to address these problems.”
The Detroit Water and Sewerage Department says it’s taking an “aggressive approach” to collect on past-due commercial accounts, and that its piloting a program for commercial collections that has proved successful so far.
To hear more from Kruth’s conversation on WDET’s Detroit Today, click the audio file above.