In a city where the median household income is less than half the national average, 38 percent of residents live below the poverty line and 23 percent are unemployed, it comes as no surprise that at least 40 percent of customers are delinquent on their bills.
The water shut-offs have taken no prisoners. Since this year's shut-offs started at the end of March, at least 15,000 Detroit households have had their water turned off. But the campaign, a tactic designed to pressure Detroiters into paying their water bills, began with little or no publicity last year, when 24,000 homes had their water shut off, says Darryl Latimer, the deputy director of the water department.
The frequency of shut-offs gained momentum in the fall, shortly after the city’s bankruptcy was filed, and just a few months after the city contracted shut-off services out to Homrich, a demolition company. The city agreed to pay Homrich at most $6 million for work over 730 calendar days. Delinquent customers were given a grace period in December for the winter months, with shut-offs resuming upon the arrival of spring.
With the city’s average of just under three people per household, these numbers mean that roughly 100,000 Detroiters out of a total population that hovers just under 700,000 have already been affected by the shut-offs, with tens of thousands more awaiting their turn.
Clampdowns can seem to arrive out of the blue, as residents don’t receive any formal notification that their services are to be shut off. Heard’s bills, up until the last one, which was for $263.87, only contained a small “past due” notice at the end, informing her that she was behind on her payments and her service was “subject to disconnection.”