Detroit launches new water affordability plan based on income and usage (2024)

Nushrat Rahman|Detroit Free Press

Starting in August, some Detroiters couldpay $18 a month for their water bills under a new affordability plan.

City officials on Tuesday unveiled the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department's Lifeline Plan—a fixed monthly rate for income-eligible households below a certain threshold of water usage.

A moratorium on shut-offsis expected to lift Jan.1, 2023,except for Detroiters enrolled in payment assistance programs.

More: Detroit promised to end water shut-offs for low-income residents. Advocates say we’re not there yet.

More: Water is unaffordable across Michigan, study shows

The city's Board of Water Commissioners approved the plan earlier Tuesday despite pushback from several longtime community advocateswho have fought for income-based affordability solutions and an end to service shut-offs.

The advocates wanted more timeto consider the proposal.

DWSD Director Gary Brown said during a Tuesday news conference that there are more than 100,000 households in the city of Detroit— 40% of the 250,000 customers— who are eligible for food assistance and because of that will fall under the first tier of the plan, capping monthly payments at $18 a monthfor water, sewer, and drainage services.

The second tier, defined as "low-income," or an average household making $28,652, is capped at $43 a month. Families falling under the third level, referred to as "modest income" or those making an average of $37,127, will max at$56 a month as long as they're not receiving food assistance benefits.

"The total bill will be 1.8% of the average monthly household income for each tier," Brown said.

Theaverage monthly billfor a family of three in Detroit is $81.62, which amounts to just under $980 annually. City water bills are calculated based on water usage, sewagedisposal, and flat service charges for water, sewerage and drainage.

The new plan would also erase arrears for those who qualify.

It isfunded by regional, state and federal dollars but Brown acknowledged thata permanent funding source is not yet in place. His department has enough dollars for a yearor two, he said.

"There needs to be permanent funding. It cannot come from rates. We can't pass on that kind of cost to ratepayers that are struggling to pay bills. It has to come from either the state or federal government and we're cautiously optimistic," Brown said.

People can apply for the new plan July 1 and the changes will be reflected in bills Aug. 1.

Those who are already in the Water Residential Assistance Program, or WRAP, will be automatically enrolled andan additional19,000 or so households, who "aged out"of the program after two years, will be notified by theWayne Metropolitan Community Action Agency.

Starting Friday, Detroiterswho qualify can applyby calling Wayne Metroat 313-386-9727 or by going to

Customers have to use within 6 centum cubic feet of water per month,which translates to about 4,500 gallons, in order to stay within the fixed rate. Go above that and pay more. In other words, if a family receives food assistance benefits and is enrolled in the new plan and they use 6,000 gallons of water, their bill willbe $38.06 instead of $18.

All customers— whetherresidential, commercial, industrial, governmental or nonprofit— will pay based on usage under the new plan, Brown said.

The average three-person Detroit household used between 2,300 to 3,000gallons of water a month, according to the water department's billing data.

Brown said increasesmay be due to plumbing and leaking issues. He said he's looking for state approval for a $10 million tranche of funds, for the next five years, to help low-income residential customers repair leaks and keep water usagelow.

The proposal faced fierce critique from manywater advocates, several of whom requested a 30- to45-day review and public comment period before implementationof the plan. Some decried the process as nontransparent.

"The rollout of the plan was less than acceptable," Cecily McClellan, a founding member of We the People of Detroit, said during Tuesday's Board of Water Commissionersmeeting.

She said advocates were invited to meetings but did not have full details of the plan.

"I would educate the community that there is adifference between assistance and affordability," said Monica Lewis-Patrick, president and CEO of We The People of Detroit. She said the plan appears to be a patchwork solution.

Sylvia Orduño, an organizer with the Michigan Welfare Rights Organization and People's Water Board Coalition, said the water department's proposal was not the first affordability plan— several groups had proposed oneback in 2005. At the time, there were concerns around its legality. The plan was approved by Detroit City Council but not implemented, according to a 2019 report from the Haas Institute for a Fair and Inclusive Society at UC Berkeley.

Meanwhile, Beulah Walker, chief coordinator of Hydrate Detroit, says her group is in "full support" ofDWSD's new plan, but had a coupleconcerns around the hurdles Detroiters facewhen applyingfor assistance programs and the procurement of long-term funding to support the new plan.

"Hydrate Detroit has witnesseddeath and destruction during these water shut-offs and I'm just happy that we are finally coming to a means to an end," she said.

Theresa Landrum, asouthwest Detroitresident, said Tuesday was the first time she has heard about the new plan. She said there is a "gap" in receiving information.

"Why is it always that the residents get information after the plan is in place?" Landrum said to the city's Board of Water Commissioners during public comment.

Brown said he has had conversations with 35 different advocates.

"We will work with them. I have to do a better job of making sure that they have information....I've been working with them for more than 10 years now on these issues," he said.

In 2014, Detroit’s shut-off practicesdrew international attention, spurring the United Nations to declare that cutting off water for those with a “genuine inability to pay” is ahuman rights violation.

More than 60,000 city households have delinquent water bills — an estimated 27% of Detroit’s 220,000 residential customers, according to DWSD earlier this month. The average debt per customer is $700.

One in 10 Detroit households spends more than a quarter of their income —outside of other essential expenses like food and utilities —on water services,a report from the University of Michigan, Michigan State University and consulting firm Safe Water Engineering found last year.

Dr. Abdul El-Sayed, Detroit’s former public health director who was tapped to identify funding to prevent water shut-offs back in late 2020, saiddozens of advocates have been key to fashioning solutions and that there’s more work to do.

“No Detroiter will have their water shut off because they cannot afford to pay their bill, that has always been the North Star," he said.

DWSD said it is hosting a 60-day "community engagement" effort to gather feedback on the plan for any amendments and going door to -door to let residents know about payment options.

BridgeDetroit reporterMalachi Barrett contributed to this report.

Nushrat Rahman covers issues related to economic mobility for the Detroit Free Press and Bridge Detroitas a corps member with Report for America, an initiative of The GroundTruth Project. Make a tax-deductible contribution to support her work at

Contact Nushrat:; 313-348-7558. Follow her on Twitter: @NushratR.Sign up for Bridge Detroit's newsletter.Become aFree Press subscriber.

Detroit launches new water affordability plan based on income and usage (2024)


Detroit launches new water affordability plan based on income and usage? ›

A popular water affordability plan is helping thousands of struggling Detroit residents keep up with their water bills and avoid shutoffs. The income-based Detroit Lifeline Plan, launched in August 2022, erases Detroit Water and Sewerage Department (DWSD) customers' existing debt and reduces their water bills.

What is the Detroit water Affordability Plan? ›

What is the DWSD Lifeline Plan? Developed in partnership with community advocates and water affordability experts, the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department (DWSD) Lifeline Plan is an income-based water affordability program. It offers qualifying customers a low, fixed monthly bill and erases past debt.

How much does water cost in Detroit? ›

For those using less than 4,500 gallons (six CCFs) per month, the Board of Water Commissioners approved a rate of $2.50 per CCF per month in 2022. In July 2023, the commission increased that rate by 8 cents to $2.58. For high-volume customers, they charged an increase of 14 cents per CCF from $4.49 to $4.63 in July.

Why is Detroit water so expensive? ›

In Detroit, an aged system, inadequate revenue, public health risks and long-term population loss contribute to escalating infrastructure cost and water rates.

What is the water system in Detroit? ›

DWSD's water system consists of more than 2,700 miles of water main and 29,000-plus fire hydrants, and the combined sewer collection system has nearly 3,000 miles of sewer piping, more than 90,000 catch basins and 16 green stormwater infrastructure projects within the city of Detroit.

How much is a monthly water bill in Michigan? ›

#StateAverage Water Bill
33New York$30
46 more rows

What is the Michigan water affordability legislation? ›

The water affordability program will require low-income customers to pay an amount that is affordable based on their household income. The fee collected from all water customers will ensure that water providers can pay the “gap” between the amount of the affordable bill and the actual cost of service.

Is Detroit water OK to drink? ›

The City of Detroit's drinking water is clean and safe to drink and it meets or exceeds all federal and state regulatory standards under the Safe Drinking Water Act.

What is the average electric bill in Detroit Michigan? ›

Monthly electric bills are a product of how much electricity you use per month and your electric rate. In Detroit, MI, the average monthly electric bill for residential customers is $147/month, which is calculated by multiplying the average monthly consumption by the average electric rate: 829 kWh * 18 ¢/kWh.

How much did it cost to switch back to Detroit water? ›

In October, Snyder announced a $12m plan to transfer Flint back to the city of Detroit's water system. The state covered half the cost, while Flint kicked in $2m and the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation contributed $4m.

What city has the most expensive water in the US? ›

The Monterey Peninsula now ranks #1 with the most expensive water in the United States. The annual cost to Cal Am's Peninsula customers for 60,000 gallons is $1202.

What is the problem with Detroit City water? ›

Chromium 6 is an extremely toxic metal that is not currently regulated by the EPA. In recent years, Detroit tap water averaged 110 parts per trillion for Chromium 6. For the sake of perspective, these levels are over 5 times higher than the concentration determined to have negligible impact on cancer risk.

Who is the most expensive water? ›

Acqua Di Cristallo Tributo A Modigliani: $60,000

As of writing, Acqua di Cristallo Tributo a Modigliani is largely believed to be the most expensive water ever sold at auction. It even got the stamp of authenticity from the Guinness Book of World Recordsback in 2010.

Who owns Detroit Water System? ›

The Detroit Water and Sewerage Department (DWSD) is a public utility that provides water and sewerage services for Detroit, Michigan and owns the assets that provide water and sewerage services to 126 other communities in seven counties. It is one of the largest water and sewer systems in the United States.

Is Detroit tap water hard or soft? ›

Yes, Detroit does have hard water.

Why did Michigan switch their water supply? ›

Not surprisingly, Walling was voted out of the office a year later. The decision to switch water sources was made by a state emergency financial manager. The intent of the water switch was to save money and fix the city's multi-million-dollar budget deficit.

What is Michigan State water Plan? ›

Additional water infrastructure actions include: Invested over $4 billion through the MI Clean Water Plan, supporting over 57,000 jobs, helping communities remove lead service lines, reduce toxic contaminants like PFAS, rehabilitate water plants, rebuild sewers, and so much more.

What is the household water security in Metropolitan Detroit measuring the affordability gap? ›

These results indicate that for low-income residents in Metro Detroit, there is $45.08 monthly affordability gap and $540.96 annual affordability gap.

What percent discount do those who qualify for the water affordability program in Cleveland receive? ›

The Water Affordability Program offers a 40% discount on all standard water charges. This includes both the monthly fixed charge and the consumption charge.


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