Detroit Water Bills Are Now Getting Paid by Crowd-Funding

Over the past few years we’ve seen some pretty remarkable things get paid for via crowd-funding, from movies to books, even reproductive health clinics. Now two women are using crowd-funding in a more unusual way — to pay the outstanding water bills for Detroit residents.

Nearly half of the residents of Detroit owe more than $150 on their water bills, and either have had or are in danger of having their water shut off on them due to their delinquency. Although the city has recently announced that it will be holding off on shutting off any more customers for the next few weeks in order to give some a chance to settle their bills, they have done little to actually address the reasons why they cannot pay, or offer much help to these residents to get their bills up to date.

However, as more people acknowledge that clean water is a human right, and that the city is playing favorites when it comes to keeping businesses with far greater debts hooked up while refusing to help its residents, a groundswell has begun of those looking for tangible ways to help.

Those are the reasons behind The Detroit Water Project Group, a website that verifies outstanding water bills, then matches those bills up with a donor willing to pay them. Created by Tiffani Ashley Bell and Kristy Tillman, a donor signs up on a website with his or her email address, then is provided with an account number and a past due amount. The donor then decides how much of that bill to pay, from a percentage to the entire amount. For those who want their bills paid, you can go onto the website and enter your account number to have your bill added to the list.

The website agrees to keep all donor emails confidential, meaning you can truly just be a good Samaritan, without worrying about being solicited down the road.

By Tuesday morning, the site was already a success, with founders announcing they had matched 17 residents with 70 donors. By Wednesday afternoon, the results shifted even more dramatically. “Over 1,600 donors in. We have completely zero’d out $5K in accts. You all did this for the #DetroitWater Project,” tweeted one of the founders.

There’s little doubt that residents are getting desperate. Although the shut-offs have been halted for now, that doesn’t address the needs of the thousands who already had their water turned off, and cannot afford to get it back. There are reports of trucks traveling through the city, offering to turn a resident’s water back on after a shut off for a mere $20 fee — far less than that person would be able to get away with paying on a partial bill to get his or her water reinstated. Being caught results in fines, but that’s just the beginning of the action some local communities are taking against the water shut-offs.

“Some physically obstruct the contractors,” reports The Guardian. “Others leave cars parked over their mains at night. A guide circulating online instructs people how to lock the main back on and seal it in concrete. ‘If anyone from the city or water department asks what happened: the shutoff is outside your home,’ it says. ‘Who knows what some radical did while you were asleep?’”

While resistance can be seen as justifiable to many, there is no doubt it can come with a heavy price if caught, and one that those who are already struggling with poverty and deprivation are the least likely to be able to afford. Crowd-funding water bills, meanwhile, could save hundreds or thousands from being forced to make that choice, much like they are being forced to find the money to pay delinquent bills or put food on their table.

Here’s hoping there are enough donors to make this project a success. If the city of Detroit won’t step up to end this crisis, at least the people will.

Photo credit: Thinkstock


Jim Ven
Jim V1 years ago

thanks for the article.

Dianne Dunn
Past Member 3 years ago

Thank you to donators to the Detroit Water Group. You are humanitariuns that I admire. Not one should ever be denied access to water .....a necessity of life!
The water company and City disgust me for allowing people to be deprived of water. The city should pay for the water out of taxes/revenue. I commend the two women who started the Detroit Water GRoup. Bless you both as well as the donators.

M.N. J.
M.N. J3 years ago

Sorry. I wrote: "...there are BIG businesses who have..." when obviously I should have said, "WHICH have."

The Supreme Court has infected my grammar, apparently.

M.N. J.
M.N. J3 years ago

In 2005 the Detroit City Council adopted a Water Affordability Plan that would provide relief for all families living at or below 175% of the federal poverty line and fix the excessive charges the city has passed on to families. But this plan was never implemented.

There are BIG businesses in Detroit who have as much as $9.5 million in unpaid water bills. So why is the city going after families first?

Please read and sign the petition sponsored by
Daily Kos
Demand Progress /
Democracy for America
Environmental Action
Food & Water Watch
People's Water Board
RH Reality Check
Working Families Organization

Thank you.

Vivianne Mosca-Clark

Control is the issue.
The rich want to control the rest of us so they can continue to live in high luxury.
I'm not going for it.
If the rich were as smart as they say they are...they would never had done the plan they are doing. Cutting jobs, moving business over seas, cutting out infrastructure, cutting down schools, health, fire / police and support for the communities they have their private business in. Where are the jobs that pay people so the people can buy the things big business sells?
It is a circle...if you cut out part of the circle...........

Donna F.
Donna F3 years ago


jan b.
jan b3 years ago

I understand the need to charge for the use of water because people are people and are often wasteful.
But it makes no sense to me to turn off the water because people are unable to pay the bill because it invites diseases that could be spread and health issues for the people who are living without a fresh water supply which may cost taxpayers more in the end.

Kimberly J.
Kimberly J3 years ago

Denise D., the taxpayer money being used to build the new stadium could be better spent by paying poor people's water bills.

Susanne P.
Susanne P3 years ago

Good idea. But governments should limit the price of water everywhere in the world.

And I totally agree to Pam w. who said: "Good! Why don't some of the wealthy OLIGARCHS step in?"

Karen Ryan
Karen Ryan3 years ago

I can't imagine living with my water turned off. It is a wonderful thing that people are stepping up to help.