Philadelphia Passes Income-Based Water Affordability Plan

Read the press release below from Philadelphia City Council, which just passed a water affordability program:


Office of María Quiñones-Sánchez
Councilwoman, 7th District
City Hall, Room 592
Philadelphia, PA 19107
Contact: Jennifer Kates



PHILADELPHIA — Legislation sponsored by Councilwoman Maria Quiñones-Sánchez to improve water bill collections and institute a new program to protect low-income water customers unanimously passed City Council today. It now heads to Mayor Michael Nutter for signature.

The legislation, Bill 140607, would establish an Income-Based Water Revenue Assistance Program, or IWRAP, to ensure low-income Philadelphians’ water bills are affordable in relation to their income. It would also encourage increased collections and water conservation measures. Read More

Read: WPD Water Op-Ed

In a Sunday, April 19 article entitled “Despite City Efforts to Help, Water Cutoffs Loom” the Detroit Free Press raised some important issues at this moment of the city’s historic water crisis. Here are 8 points that we would like to highlight & clarify, based on our ongoing work with victims of water shutoff in Detroit.

1. We are grateful that The Detroit Free Press is covering city-imposed water shutoffs and has made a decision to place it on the front page and to devote a considerable amount of space in the Sunday edition. Obviously, we think this is an issue that deserves the attention of Metro Detroiters and the rest of the world. This is why we joined other Detroit leaders to invite a United Nations delegation to investigate the crisis last Fall and this is why we are eagerly awaiting their return next month.

2. The Free Press reported that “the city is back in frustrating, familiar territory again,” alluding to 73,000 active residential accounts who remain at least two months behind in their water payments. We want to flip the script on who bears the ultimate frustration in this process: Detroit residents who have had their water shut-off, many of whom we have met over the past year. Time and time again, we discover that they are victims of unfulfilled promises from landlords, water leakage, legitimate billing disputes and inadequate financial aid.

3. We are pleased that you report that Mayor Mike Duggan has admitted that his payment-plan system is not working for thousands of Detroiters, almost all of them black and long-time residents who have stayed and paid and refused to walk away from the city even during its most intense tribulations.

4. We are pleased to read that the Mayor, this week, will be announcing some adjustments to the help provided to victims of water shut-off. A 50% reduction in back due amounts and a 25% reduction on monthly payments is a small step, but it is in the right direction.

5. We believe, however, that tweaks and adjustments will not solve this crisis for many of the residents we’ve worked with. All along, we’ve joined many concerned Detroiters in calling for the implementation of the water affordability plan based on federal Environmental Protection Agency standards and passed by city council in 2006: no Detroiter or Metro Detroiter ought to pay more than 2.5% of their annual income. Unfortunately, it was reported that the Mayor has ruled out income-based payment plans saying that it is not possible to delineate an income associated with a water account because addresses are billed, not residents. Yet, the residents we are working with, in order to apply for any financial assistance, are required to show proof of income, the bill and the lease/deed agreement connected to the house and water bill. In addition, as the Free Press rightfully points out, other municipalities have paved the way with their success in this area: in Philadelphia, water payment plans take into account a ratepayers disposable income. If they can do it in Pennsylvania, we can certainly do it in Michigan!

6. We continue to be concerned when the Mayor makes claims about the availability of financial resources for those behind on their water bills. As the Free Press rightly noted, the funds coming from Wayne County Metro and the Detroit Water Fund are scarce (when compared to the millions of dollars that victims of water shut-off cannot afford). In addition, there are many requirements for access to these funds that are not being reported. Time and time again we talk with residents who have not been able to get help from these sources because their water was shut off either too long ago or not long enough, who owe either too much in back dues to DWSD or not enough! And if a resident is fortunate enough to receive funds from these sources, it automatically disqualifies her from receiving funds in the future.

7. We continue to be baffled and frustrated when city officials, including the Mayor, make references to demands for “free water.” In fact, we do not know anyone calling for free water for Detroiters. We’ve always made our request very clear: we believe that every resident of this watershed deserves to have access to affordable

8. Lastly, we are concerned about the report of language used for a media campaign documented in the minutes of the March 9 meeting of the new Great Lakes Water Authority. It read: “The goal is to change the culture regarding responsibility to pay for service.” We simply ask that city leaders cease this kind of victim-blaming. It has been our experience—through our door-to-door canvassing efforts, from calls to our water hotline and our emergency water deliveries—that the inability to pay water bills in the city of Detroit has very little to do with a lack of personal responsibility. This crisis has everything to do with unjust social and economic policies from the State of Michigan and the city of Detroit. More than 40% of Detroiters live below the poverty level and water rates are twice the national average (and climbing!). This doesn’t add up.

As we head into the Spring and another round of vicious water shut-offs, we want to make sure that the truth on the ground is clear. Too often, the Mayor and other city officials have been able paint over questions with vague insinuations. We desperately need leaders and media outlets to say what they mean and mean what they say. We would like to invite anyone and everyone to join us in our efforts, in the words of the prophet Amos, “to let justice roll like water.” Water is a human right for every precious Detroiter. Now, more than ever, we are faced with a sense of urgency. Now is the time for all Detroiters of faith and conscience to stand up and fight back.


A Call to Action! Implement the 2005 Detroit Water Affordability Program

History of the 2005 Program

In 2005, Roger Colton, an expert consultant to municipalities on low-income affordability programs for utilities, presented a 44 page Water Affordability Program (WAP) for the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department (DWSD). The WAP proposal was presented to the DWSD and Detroit City Council on behalf of Michigan Poverty Law Program, Michigan Legal Services and their clients, including Michigan Welfare Rights Organization. Mr. Colton spent several weeks reviewing DWSD operations; and speaking with DWSD and City of Detroit officials, local attorneys, residents of the city and community groups to establish a program that addressed the consumer protection and business needs of DWSD customers and stakeholders.

Proposal Summary

Unaffordable water/sewer bills pose substantial problems to low-income Detroit residents. Not only do unaffordable bills impede the ability of low-income customers to make their water/sewer payments, but such bills also impose substantial physical, emotional and social hardships even on low-income customers that make their payments.

Beyond the impacts on low-income customers, water/sewer bills that are unaffordable to low-income Detroit residents pose a business problem for the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department (DWSD). Increased financial costs to the DWSD result from increased credit and collection expenses arising from the need to “chase” bill payments; increased working capital expenses associated with higher arrears, and increased bad debt/uncollectible expenses associated with long-term nonpayment. This proposal contains three sets of recommendations to address these social and business problems associated with the unaffordability of water/sewer bills. The proposal recommends:

  1. Adoption of a rate affordability program, consisting of a rate discount component, an arrearage
    management component and a water conservation component.
  2. Adoption of designated fundamental consumer protections involving late fees, service disconnections, and payment plans; and
  3. Adoption of designated collections initiatives directed toward customers having an ability-to-pay.

The combined effect of these three sets of recommendations will not only be to address the unaffordability problems facing low-income Detroit water/sewer customers, but also to rationalize the overall collections efforts undertaken by DWSD.

Each set of recommendations should be adopted.

For more information

• Read the Los Angeles Times article, “Thousands go without water as Detroit cuts service for nonpayment.” June 28, 2014 ( In the story, Roger Colton argues that cities won’t get the money they want by simply shutting off services. Instead, he says, utilities should require residents to pay a percentage of their income to the water department for service.
• Read the full 2005 Water Affordability Program proposal to DWSD at

Press Release: Citizens Faced With Water, Housing & Criminal Injustices Share Healing Stories

BENTON HARBOR, April 3, 2015  Please join the Michigan Roundtable for Diversity and Inclusion and organizers from The Bold & Brave Benton Harbor Coalition and the Greater Benton Harbor Community as they plan to honor the voices of those affected by racial inequity in the Benton Harbor area. The event will take place on April 11, 2015 at the Kindergarten Discovery Center Gym located at 1995 Union Street, Benton Harbor, MI 49022 from 1-4pm. Come and listen as community members share their compelling stories of human issues as we find ways to work together to help solve them. Special appearances will also be made by Tawana “Honeycomb” Petty, an award winning author, poet and organizer as she performs some of her original pieces accompanied by Rich Samartino on guitar. The event is free but space is limited. Community members are asked to RSVP at or by calling 313.870.1500. Read More

Press Release: We the People of Detroit Among 11 Self-Development of People Grant Recipients!

CONTACT: Margaret Mwale

(502) 569-5791 or (502) 569-5792

Self-Development of People disburses over $180,000 to fund 11 self-help Projects in the U.S. and in Belize

Detroit, MI project awarded grant

LOUISVILLE, KY (February 26, 2015) — The Presbyterian Committee on the Self-Development of People (SDOP) has approved grants totaling $180,000 to 11self-help projects in the United States and Belize. The money is from the PC (USA) – One Great Hour of Sharing (OGHS) offering. Self-Development of People receives 32 percent of undesignated OGHS gifts.

We the People of Detroit (Detroit Water Crisis Hotline) was awarded a $15,000 grant. Group members of this advocacy project are advocating for their water rights due an aggressive campaign to disconnect the water services of residents with an overdue balance above $150 or if they are behind more than 60 days for payments.  The project will provide short term water supplies for members to avert a public health crisis, restore water to affected and high risk members and implement a policy to ensure fresh clean water is delivered to low income residents at an affordable cost.

SDOP’s grant recipients through the years have ranged from a group seeking to address the problem of poverty and hunger by using hydroponic gardening to grow food for its members and by selling excess produce to the local community; to a bag making cooperative by a group of youth which has enabled them to learn viable leadership and business skills; to a peer to peer developmental project in which participants with mental health challenges have received appropriate training. As certified recovery peer specialists they have in turn provided training to others. The training has helped these group members gain employment skills thus increasing their independence.

SDOP enables members and non-members of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) to form partnerships with economically poor, oppressed and disadvantaged people in order to help them achieve self-sufficiency.

Grants were approved at a meeting of SDOP’s national committee in Houston, TX in January 2015.

For further information about Self-Development of People, please contact the National Office at:

100 Witherspoon Street
Louisville, KY 40202-1396
Toll Free Telephone: English – (888) 728-7228 x5782 / 5791/5792
Spanish – (888) 728-7228 x5790
Fax: (502) 569-8001

Web site: