To understand why revitalizing Detroit will be difficult, consider the response to the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department’s (DWSD) recent plan to make overdue customers pay their bills. The DWSD serves more than 4 million customers across the Detroit region. The suburbs mostly buy water from the DWSD wholesale, so it’s mainly city residents and businesses who get billed directly, and over half of them—about 90,000 customers—haven’t paid up. Total past-due bills add up to nearly $90 million, with the average delinquent residential customer owing $540, or more than 7 months’ worth of service, based on an average bill of $75.
No enterprise can survive if half its customers don’t pay their bills, so DWSD embarked on a program to make its customers pay or face disconnection of their service—the same requirement placed on every utility customer in America.