Last week, a bankruptcy judge ordered the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department to come up with answers for helping residents pay their overdue water bills, in light of the thousands of shut-off notices the agency has issued across the city. While the water authority must present its alternatives in court today, two resourceful women have already come up with one solution.
Turn on Detroit's Water is a website that matches donors with Detroiters who are struggling to pay their water bills. The site invites residents with overdue bills to submit their information. From there, the site—which is the work of Tiffani Ashley Bell and Kristy Tillman—matches them with donors willing to assume their obligation.
Here's how it works: Detroit account holders who owe $250 or less to DWSD can enter their information through a simple form-based site. Required info includes address, account number, past due and current charges, and account balance. The information is then verified through the Detroit Water and Sewage Department website.
Would-be donors simply submit an email address. Once a donor is matched with an account holder, the donor then receives all the account information required to pay the overdue bill. The donor can't see the Detroit account holder's name, though, unless the account holder asks to reveal it.
As Bell recounts, the project was sparked in a discussion over Twitter.
So yesterday I rolled over to a story in @TheAtlantic about the water crisis in Detroit. I'd followed the story a bit already, but ugh.— Tiffani Ashley Bell (@tiffani) July 18, 2014
In any event, it wasn't enough to just sadly retweet Detroit water stories all day, so me and @KristyT decided to do something about it.— Tiffani Ashley Bell (@tiffani) July 18, 2014
Bell and Tillman's site indicates that only individual residents are eligible to participate—so a donor won't be asked to pay on one of the city's many delinquent corporate accounts. Some 4,400 homes remained without water in late June, according to reports. The department announced today that it was suspending shut-offs for the next 15 days to give delinquent account holders time to seek help.
Tillman says by email that they began looking for residents in need on Friday and that they had identified several by this morning. Word of mouth has spread faster among donors. "We've got over 100 donors from allover the place who are getting matched up with people in Detroit right now thanks to sharing their email addresses with us," she says.
Representatives at DWSD didn't respond right away about whether they will direct delinquent customers to seek help on Tillman and Bell's website.