Detroit Officials Stand Firm Against Delaying Water Shutoffs for Low-Income Citizens

Detroit residents fight back against water shut offs An attorney representing a group of Detroit residents slammed the city’s “hodgepodge” of programs that are meant to assist citizens living in poverty and urged a judge to order a brief halt to water shutoffs for unpaid accounts.

Detroit officials, on the other hand, are defending their programs and claim further postponing water shutoffs for unpaid accounts will negatively impact the rest of the city.

The city of Detroit has had a longstanding battle with poverty, and now an attorney wants a judge to show some sympathy for the citizens who have been impacted by financial woes.

Alice Jennings is representing 10 residents as they fight against a controversial campaign to shut off water for unpaid accounts.

Jennings asked for a brief moratorium during a two-day evidentiary hearing in federal court Tuesday, according to the Detroit News.

“We are asking for a brief moratorium for those who have been hardest hit by the financial circumstances here in Detroit,” Jennings told U.S. Bankruptcy Court Judge Steven Rhodes, the Detroit News reported.

She went on to say that some citizens in Detroit desperately need some sort of relief during tough times, and shutting off their water certainly will not help to improve their situation.

During the proposed six-month moratorium, Jennings wants city officials to construct a comprehensive plan that would help residents who can’t afford to pay their water bills.

While there are programs to reach out to residents with lower incomes, Jennings referred to that “hodgepodge” of programs “cobbled together” by officials as a “chaotic mess.”

Tim O’Brien, the attorney representing the city’s water department, countered that the city has made great strides with reaching out to residents who are facing troubling financial circumstances.

O’Brien explained that the city has an assistance fund outlined in its 10-point current plan as well as a separate source of additional aid money.

“That’s significant money, it goes a long way,” he said.

He also explained that the city’s plan not only provides financial aid for low-income residents, but it aims to provide educational resources as well.

Detroit officials defend water shut offsThe plan was put into action last month and statistics seem to support O’Brien’s claim that the program has been effective so far.

According to the Detroit News, calls for water assistance have dropped from 1,000 in August to 300 in September.

“This means we are reaching people,” said Alexis Wiley, chief of staff to Mayor Mike Duggan. “They are understanding there’s assistance and we’ve changed our model.”

Wiley took the stand in the city’s defense and insisted that any residents who are in trouble can get the help they need if they come in and apply for assistance.

“The minute you apply, your shutoff is halted,” Wiley said.

Jennings argued that the city is not aware of just how serious the problem really is.

Curtrise Garner, a spokeswoman for Detroit’s Water and Sewerage Department, said there are already over 25,000 residential accounts on payment plans.

While that number is enough to have officials concerned, they also believe that continuing with the shutoffs is the only way to keep the problem from getting worse.

Lawyers for Detroit claimed that halting the shutoffs would lead to higher rates for other citizens, cause the department to lose revenues and encourage more residents to leave their accounts unpaid.


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