Detroit water offers plan for low-income residents - but activists are wary

The Detroit Water Department is taking steps to make sure low-income residents have access to drinking water. It is offering payment plans to keep the taps turned on and also help with repairs -- and bills that may have fallen behind.

The new Lifeline Plan will give residents who qualify, up to 4,500 gallons of water per month at a fixed rate.

The plan uses a three-tier system, based on household income and would determine how much each household will pay if they stay under 4,500 gallons of water per month.

Activists and community members say they’ve been left out of the process and worry about shutoffs and the price.

"Are you kidding me, are we really holding this discussion - are we really fighting over water?" said community activist Auntie Na.

A group composed of lawmakers, advocates, and everyday citizens are concerned over Detroit’s new water affordability plan.  

"You have to look at water sewage and drainage fees. And we just had a water rate increase. This plan needs to be revamped - we like the effort that they are doing an income-based program," said Cecily McClellan of We the People of Detroit. "But connecting it to usage is problematic,"

The group is asking the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department to be transparent with the community on its new Detroit Lifeline Plan.

The city claims through the plan low-income residents would be charged no more than 1.8 percent of their average monthly income for water service.

US Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Detroit) says she and Congresswoman Debbie Dingell (D-Ann Arbor) have secured additional funding to help with water affordability in the city.

"We got $1.1 billion dollars, for low income, for the water program," Tlaib said. "And we even fought to include reconnection fees, because they weren't including those."

FOX 2: "Is that enough?"

"No of course not," she said. "But I will tell you this - the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department needs to tell us how much they do need. (We haven't gotten that answer) I even asked the state 'Do you have that data?' 'No we don't.'"

DWSD says qualifying Detroit households can have their water bill balance erased. And it says no Detroit resident will face a water shutoff if enrolled in the Detroit Lifeline Plan or the DWSD 10/30/50 Plan.

Advocates still worry many people.. who need help will be left out.

"As a mother an advocate and a woman, I was asked to talk to you about what the city of Detroit is doing - except I have no information," said Sonja Bonnett of the Detroit Justice Center.

The group says it wants all plan documents made available and an ombudsman established specifically for DWSD to coordinate feedback.

DWSD says it used community input to develop the plan. It also adds that 10 community engagement events will be held for residents to give their input.

For more information go to the city's DWSD page HERE.

Income-eligible Detroiters apply through Wayne Metro at 313-386-9727 or

The DWSD Lifeline Plan’s three tiers:

  • If you receive SNAP/FAP benefits – You pay $18 a month for water, sewer, and drainage services.
  • If you are a low-income household (non-SNAP/FAP) – You pay $43 a month for your total DWSD bill.
  • If you are a moderate-income household (non-SNAP/FAP) – You pay $56 a month for your total DWSD bill.