Nearly Half Of Detroit Water Customers Can’t Pay Their Bill


DETROIT (WWJ) – It’s a basic human right: water. But could the United Nations soon help the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department provide the service to struggling customers?

Water department spokeswoman Curtrise Garner says it’s a possibility — but for now, the water bills must be paid.

“We do have programs that do help those that are just totally in need; can’t afford it — but we also know that there are also people who can’t afford it would can not pay and we know this because, once we shut water off, the next day they are in paying the bill in full. So we do know that that has become a habit as well,” said Garner.


Half of Detroit’s customers are not paying their water bill.

But what percentage truly can’t afford to pay for water, and what percentage simply aren’t paying? The spokesman mentioned there are programs to assist households which are financially stressed. And she admitted that when the city shuts off someone’s water, people quickly turn up with the cash to pay their bill in full. I once had my water shut off, and I made sure it didn’t happen again.

The city isn’t collecting the money which is owed, but why is that? Simply because people don’t pay doesn’t mean they can’t afford to pay.


That could simply mean that they didn’t pay their rent the month they had to pay the water bill. Then they get to make up the back rent by not paying the water bill until it get’s shut off again. Add in a few other bills and you get the picture. It’s a terrible cycle to find yourself in.

I’ve never been poor but I’ve been broke and have played the “rob Peter to pay Paul” game. It’s not fun.


In the early 2000s, most of the people who could leave Detroit began leaving until most of those who could leave left. Many people are on some form of public assistance. This surprises me because the usual pattern I’ve seen is one bill, then a second bill, with a third bill marked Shut-Off Notice.

I wonder about the “habit” part. In the past, your water was shut off. Due to the ‘housing crisis,’ and the drop in actual property values, Detroit lost money.


  1. The majority of the City’s water customers do not live in the City of Detroit.

  2. Things are very bad here, and people are making money stretch any way they can. In the article they mentioned how often people are in the water department the day after their service is cut. Cash in hand.

  3. Utility bills in general are higher here. Water rates start high, and each community attaches a little something for it’s own cost. So, we have some of the highest water bills in the nation. We also have some of the best water.:slight_smile:



Aside from the crux of the article which deals with water and bill-paying, one aspect (of the article) that caught my attention was the fact that some here are not appealing merely to the local municipality or city concerning the story.

They also are not appealing to the state of Michigan.

They are not even appealing to the federal government and Washington DC.

Rather they are appealing to the UN!


I live near you. I’ve watched the attempts by Oakland County to separate itself from Detroit as far as water, but nothing’s changed. I read an article that some DW&S employees were let go. Detroit was cutting until there was nothing left to cut. Water is a big money-maker for the city.

The water seems to have more chlorine now. In the past, I could drink from the garden hose and the water tasted like water. I’ve also had well water and farm water, which usually had either a more mineral or slightly metallic taste.

Here’s a bit more about the issue:

It appears anything worth owning in the city will be privately owned or privatized.



That seems to be their goal. Obviously Detroit is a test case for a larger push to place everything of value in the hands of private concerns. Relieving the public of it’s assets.



Based on everything I’ve been reading in the Detroit newspapers over the last several years, there appears a plan was in motion before Detroit declared bankruptcy.



Yes, I have been there too. However, what it comes down to is budgeting. When push comes to shove, there generally is enough to put food on the table, pay the rent, and pay the utilities. Medical expenses, of course, are another story.

I do not doubt that many people are unable to stretch their dollars. That is why welfare programs exist. It is why Detroit residents are assisted with their water bills. If such assistance is insufficient, then such programs need addressing.

However, simply because people are not paying their bills does not mean they are unable to pay their bills.


Well, yes. This is obviously political grandstanding. It certainly has nothing to do with the situation which impoverished people in Detroit face. Rather, it has to do with comfortable people making rhetorical appeals. The goal is not to fix the problem, but to attract attention.


I just wonder how much poverty plays into the inability to pay their water bills. Also, just how much does Detroit’s extremely poor economy play into the poverty rate in Detroit?

That said, I live in subsidized housing which I am very grateful for because without it, I likely wouldn’t have a home. One of the perks of living here is that water is included with the rent.


I know a lot of people who can’t pay all their bills at the same time, so they skip one to pay the other. In my opinion all our bills are way to high and there is no excuse for any of it. However, I also know of folks who live their entire life getting phones shut off, and then the water and then the electricity, for no other reason than poor budget planning and follow through.

Other than having utilities turned off I am not sure there is any other way to get folks to pay their bills. As water is a basic need, like breathing, I have often thought it is one resource we should not have to be billed for, but that is provided for all. But that is a whole other subject for debate.

No one needs to think the costs will get any better, or that rationing will end, even in the event of another 40 day flood. Those who profit from the needs of others could care less if we have what we need or not.


Water is a necessity for life, which means I would pay my water bill before I spent one cent on recreational drugs, alcohol, movies, fast food, cable TV, cosmetics, tattoos, a pimped out car, or elaborate hair styles. That would make me unusual in Detroit(and in many other places).

The other problem is that many people feel that if their neighbor gets his water for free, they should too. The habit of not paying your bills becomes contagious.


Detroit is hardly a shining example of how well public authorities manage municipal assets and discharge municipal responsibilities.


While driving through Detroit several months ago, I saw a billboard with the words: “Homes in Detroit starting at $500.”



Coataimundi. You mentioned “political grandstanding”, “rhetorical appeals”, and the desire “to attract attention”

I think you are correct on all of these.

But one aspect of all of this that caught my attention (and I guess I didn’t make that clear enough in my prior post) was that some people can’t get enough of BIG GOVERNMENT.

This violates the principle of subsidiarity that is, “a matter ought to be handled by the smallest, lowest, or least centralised authority capable of addressing that matter effectively.” (Definition here).

CCC 1883 Socialization also presents dangers. Excessive intervention by the state can threaten personal freedom and initiative. The teaching of the Church has elaborated the principle of subsidiarity, according to which “a community of a higher order should not interfere in the internal life of a community of a lower order, depriving the latter of its functions, but rather should support it in case of need and help to co- ordinate its activity with the activities of the rest of society, always with a view to the common good.” 7

(CCC 1883 here)

Some of the people are not satisfied with bureaucrats in the capital (in this case Lansing, MI). They want BIGGER government. So you think they will turn to Washington D.C. (HUGE Government). But no. That isn’t BIG enough.

So CBS Detroit (and some people) essentially implore the UN for help. “Ahhh. BIG BIG government. Global governance. That’s better.”

I just don’t understand why so many people want BIG and BIGGER GOVERNMENT metastasizing deeper and deeper into their lives.

It is a good thing the UN does not have the power to tax otherwise they’d be proverbially telling you how your hair should and should not be parted.

Don’t get me wrong. I am not saying government has no role here (or many other areas). I am just saying the UN potentially interfering with a local municipalities water issues clearly is not preserving the subsidiarity principle.

I am also not denying that there are issues with the water situation in Detroit. (I am just saying the people there can take care of the situation better than Washington D.C. or the UN).

This kind of mentality (i.e. “I as a politician NEED to make all meaningful decisions in everyone else’s lives. These people are beasts. They can’t really make decisions and come up with appropriate solutions on their own. They need ME, a distant government official, to make these decisions for them.”) can easily be over reaching.

*]Outlawing incandescent light bulbs.
*]Outlawing “Big Gulps”.
*]Outlawing “McDonald’s Happy Meals”.
*]Inventing a BIG GOVERNMENT social program for every societal woe.
*]Now asking the UN to intervene in a municipal water issue here?

Big Government is not up to things like this.

??The UN to help with municipal water issues?? This strikes me as quite extreme.

From . . . .

. . . On the other hand, the government should not intervene to attempt to alleviate all problems. A welfare or “nanny” state, offering cradle-to-grave security and attempting to provide for all human needs, expands the state beyond its proper scope and violates the principle of subsidiarity. Pope John Paul II explained:

[INDENT]Malfunctions and defects in the social assistance state [or welfare state] are the result of an inadequate understanding of the tasks proper to the state. Here again the principle of subsidiarity must be respected: A community of a higher order should not interfere in the internal life of a community of a lower order, depriving the latter of its functions, but rather should support it in case of need and help to coordinate its activity with the activities of the rest of society, always with a view to the common good. (Centesimus Annus 48)

This overreaching by the state leads to situations that are both inefficient and detrimental to human welfare:

By intervening directly and depriving society of its responsibility, the social assistance state leads to a loss of human energies and an inordinate increase of public agencies, which are dominated more by bureaucratic ways of thinking than by concern for serving their clients, and which are accompanied by an enormous increase in spending. In fact, it would appear that needs are best understood and satisfied by people who are closest to them and who act as neighbors to those in need. (Centesimus Annus 48) . . .


Well, that’s Talk radio heard from.



By not being billed for it, do you mean not pay for it directly? Would you rather pay for it through taxes?


That would upset a lot of our Green friends, because usage would go way up if you did not have to pay directly for what you use. The current trend is exactly the opposite in things like time of day, peak load, and congestion pricing for all kinds of social services.

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