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DWSD Lifeline & Water Affordability Plan Response

To Whom It May Concern,

On June 17, 2022, Detroit Water and Sewerage Department's (DWSD) Director, Gary Brown, presented an overview of the Detroit Lifeline and Water Affordability Plan in a virtual meeting where he asked for activists and community support. We The People of Detroit (WPD) supports the overall goals of reducing arrears and guaranteeing water access for all. However, before we get behind this initiative, we ask that DWSD share the complete plan with WPD, fellow water justice advocates and the community at large and that DWSD provides a 30-45 day period for review and public comment.

As community advocates who have been fighting for water affordability for over a decade, which has only been met with opposition by Mr. Brown and DWSD, we are quite surprised at the abrupt change in direction. Given the history of Mr. Brown's opposition, we must do our due diligence to confirm that the plan aligns with the community values outlined in The Michigan Water Unity Table 11-Point Water Affordability Platform. This letter seeks to:

  1. Share our concerns about the process

  2. Identify the key points that must be included in any water affordability plan

  3. List the questions that must be answered as we move forward

During last week's meeting, activists requested access to the official document that DWSD will submit to the Board of Water Commissioners for approval. At that time, Bryan Pekinpaugh, Detroit City Public Affairs Director, indicated that they would not share the plan with the community until they have presented it to the Board of Water Commissioners for a vote. This approach does not meet our community engagement standard; quite frankly, we find it unacceptable to ask for our support without giving us full access or time to review the plan we would be supporting.

This approach excludes community members from the opportunity to offer vital input on a critical topic that directly affects their access to water and does nothing to build trust, where little to none exists. With so much at stake, we support moving forward after a 30-45 day review period to give public input- before the presentation to the Board of Water Commissioners.

Additionally, we submit that based upon the 11-Point Water Affordability Platform, any water affordability plan adopted by the City of Detroit Water and Sewerage Department must:

  1. Be detailed in writing and made available to the public for review and comment at least 30-45 days in advance of the next Board of Commissioners meeting,

  2. Commit the DWSD to fund the affordability program for the long-term, including developing a more equitable regional rate structure. Should DWSD fail to have a long-term strategy in place after two years, this will represent a failure of the leadership of DWSD and GLWA,

  3. Establish and empower an Ombudsman inside DWSD to serve as an advocate for the consumers of water and wastewater services,

  4. Guarantee that households at or below 200% of the Federal Poverty Level (FPL) are subject to an income-based rate for water and wastewater services, and eliminate the water and wastewater debt held by households at or below 200% FPL, and

  5. Create a transparent structure for tracking and reviewing the program's implementation, providing community members with detailed data and information about eligible households and the households reached through the program.

We are still unclear about a long-term funding strategy for DWSD's proposed plan. In the interim, as a show of good faith between the community and DWSD, Mr. Brown should immediately remove arrearages for households at or below 200% of the FPL and keep the moratorium on water shutoffs. We the People of Detroit, deeply holds a sense of urgency and understand that our community needs access to the clean, safe and affordable water they deserve. Yet, given our history, we have trepidation in this moment that DWSD is being honest and transparent about a solution for water affordability. Mr. Brown's plan has not been distributed to the community, nor has the community had the chance to weigh in. As we move forward, there is a need for barrier-free communication, transparency, and genuine community inclusion.

As members of the community, we demand to know:

  • What data supports the proposed rate of 6 CCF or 4,500 gallons of access per month and payment of up to $700 of arrears? How do we know that is the right level for Detroiters, particularly those with large families and with significant challenges with leaky plumbing?

  • What led to this change of position, and what steps do we take to move this from a pilot to a permanent program? Do we have the information and resources needed for a long-term funding strategy?

  • There seems to be an assumption of partnership with community groups, including We the People of Detroit. What input and influence would we have on program decisions and course corrections? Also, how can we be sure that we will not be used as scapegoats when challenges or problems emerge?

  • How will this program be integrated into a more comprehensive, equitable water rate affordability plan for Detroiters?

We appreciate your time and consideration; and we are hopeful that Mr. Brown and DWSD will meet our request to make the complete Lifeline and Water Affordability plan available for community review and public comment for 30-45 days before submitting it to the Board of Water Commissioners. In commitment to building the Beloved Community, Monica Lewis-Patrick, President & CEO Cecily McClellan, Director of Water Works We The People of Detroit We The People of Detroit Fellow Signatories

Jackson Koeppel

Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib

Gwendolyn Winston, Wisdom Institute

Tommy Airey, Kardia Kaiomene (Detroit, MI)

Lindsay Airey, Kardia Kaiomene (Detroit, MI)

Helen Moore, President, 8335 Indiana

Rev. Roslyn Bouier, M. Div., Brightmoor Connection

Rev. Joan Ross, North End Woodward Community Coalition (NEWCC) the Storehouse of Hope

The Original Citizens of Southwest Detroit

48217 Community Health and Environmental Organization

Professor Emily Kutil, Co-Director of We the People of Detroit: Community Research Collective

Russ Bellant

Linda S. Campbell, Detroit People's Platform

Mary Grant, Public Water for All Campaign Director, Food & Water Watch

Keith Cooley, CEO of Principia, LLC

Laurie Breighner, Freshwater Future

Jill M. Ryan, Freshwater Future

Reggie Tika, Lush Fresh Handmade Cosmetics


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