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DETROIT (AP) — More than 17,000 Detroit households could face water shutoffs next month as the city’s water department resumes its program to manage delinquent accounts.

Local activists have opposed the potential shutoffs, saying the city should craft a comprehensive affordability plan to help prevent service interruptions altogether, the Detroit Free Press reported .

The average past due amount is $663, according to Water and Sewerage Director Gary Brown. He said he expects the number of at-risk customers to drop significantly by May as most customers will likely set up payment arrangements.

The department will notify at-risk customers in mid-April, with shutoffs expected to start toward the end of the month. Brown said the agency usually makes three attempts to notify such customers before disconnecting services, but will make a fourth attempt this year.

Detroit’s water shutoffs have long been a divisive issue, prompting protests and catching the attention of United Nations officials.

The water department shut off nearly 17,700 delinquent accounts last year, a 20 percent drop from 2016 when there were about 28,000 service interruptions, according to city officials.

Brown said more work needs to be done and recognized that anyone experiencing water shutoffs is “unfairly disadvantaged.”

“There’s a level of poverty in this city that has them strapped for cash. We recognize that but I’m saying to them, every single residential customer has a path to not have service interruption,” he said. “We’re trying to be compassionate about it but at the same time I’m bound by law to collect the services that are rendered.”

Local organizers argued that the estimated number of shutoffs is too high. Many have questioned the city’s decision to put more money toward conducting shutoffs.

The Detroit City Council approved a $7.8 million contract last week with Homrich Wrecking to conduct water shutoffs through June 30, 2021. Past contracts have amounted to $5.6 million or more.

“Affordability should be the No. 1 concern,” said Meeko Williams, chief director of nonprofit Hydrate Detroit.

“A lot of my clients are in situations where they get stuck with a water bill and they can’t afford it,” Williams said. “Right now, nothing will change and nothing will happen until you give the people affordable water.”


Information from: Detroit Free Press,