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HOUSEHOLD WATER SECURITY
IN METROPOLITAN DETROIT:
MEASURING THE AFFORDABILITY GAP
By Dahlia Rockowitz, Chris Askew-Merwin, Malavika Sahai, Kely Markley, Cria Kay, Tony Reames - PhD, PE
RESEARCH FOCUS
How are water rates impacting the lives of low-income
residents in the Detroit metropolitan region?
Utilized quantitative and qualitative methods to provide
a regional outlook and assessment of water affordability.
TARGET POPULATION:
Low-income residents, 200% FPL
STUDY AREA:
Detroit Metropolitan Statistical Area:
Wayne, Oakland, and Macomb Counties
STUDY PERIOD:
October 2017 to March 2018
STUDY AREA AND TARGET POPULATION
SURVEY DEMOGRAPHICS
413HOUSEHOLDS
SURVEYED
EMPLOYED
UNEMPLOYED
RETIRED
OTHER
DISABILITY / SS
EMPLOYMENT
STATUS
39%
22%
13%
23%
3%
SURVEY DEMOGRAPHICS
At least 60% at or below 150% Federal Poverty Level (<18K/year).
55%RECEIVING ASSISTANCE
<$18K
ANNUAL
INCOME
60%
29%
6%
5%
$42K+
$30-42K
$18-30K
MAJOR FINDINGS
UNAFFORDABILITY IS A REGIONAL ISSUE
PEOPLE VALUE WATER, ARE WILLING TO PAY
WHAT THEY CAN AFFORD
BILLS ARE PAID, BUT UNAFFORDABLE
ASSISTANCE IS HELPING REDUCE COSTS,
BUT IS NOT CLOSING THE AFFORDABILITY GAP
MAJOR FINDINGS:
UNAFFORDABILITY IS A REGIONAL ISSUE
Data Source: Michigan GIS Open Data
10% vs. 4.5%
Respondents pay on-average 10% of their
income to water bill.
4.5% is U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s
affordability benchmark for water and
wastewater services.
LOWER INCOME,
HIGHER BURDEN
Lowest income respondents (150% FPL or lower)
pay $100.12/month, 13.6% of their income.
MAJOR FINDINGS:
PEOPLE VALUE WATER, ARE WILLING TO PAY WHAT THEY CAN AFFORD
AFFORDABILITY GAP: $45.08/MONTH, $540.96/YEAR
ONLY 1.4% OF RESPONDENTS SAID THEY EXPECT FREE WATER.
$98.61AVERAGE WATER BILL
10% OF MONTHLY INCOME
$53.53AMOUNT REPORTED BY
RESPONDENTS TO BE AN
AFFORDABLE WATER BILL
5% OF MONTHLY INCOME
* “Paid but unaffordable” is a phrase used by Roger Colton to describe residents trading-off expenses to pay
their utility bills.
MAJOR FINDINGS:
BILLS ARE PAID, BUT UNAFFORDABLE*
84% of respondents cut back on monthly expenses to pay for water
51% switched between paying gas/electric and water bills
RENT OR
PROPERTY TAX TRANSPORTATION MEDICINE
MEDICAL OR
DENTAL CARE
FRESH
PRODUCE CLOTHES
SCHOOL
SUPPLIES
84% 68% 38% 47% 63% 82% 60%
Where people cut back on monthly expenses
MAJOR FINDINGS:
ASSISTANCE IS HELPING REDUCE COSTS,
BUT IS NOT CLOSING THE AFFORDABILITY GAP
UNAFFORDABLE WATER ADDS UP
24.7% of respondents who said they struggled to pay their water bill mentioned debt
as a leading cause
62.8% of all respondents owe money on their water bill
Average water bill debt: $670.74
UNABLE TO INVEST IN THE LONG TERM
29% of respondents who said they struggled to pay their water bill mentioned leaks
as a leading cause
MAJOR FINDINGS:
ASSISTANCE IS HELPING REDUCE COSTS,
BUT IS NOT CLOSING THE AFFORDABILITY GAP
HOUSEHOLDS ON ASSISTANCE ARE STILL STRUGGLING
79.1% of respondents on assistance are still paying > 4.5%
94.3% of respondents on assistance are still making cut-backs
WATER STRUGGLES CONTINUE TO CAUSE DISRUPTION
74 households have been shut-off in the past two years.
- Of households that experienced shut-off, 48.6% had seniors or children under 18
	 years old in the home.
20 households had children miss or change schools due to a water issue.
8 households lost their housing due to a water issue.
MAJOR FINDINGS:
ASSISTANCE IS NOT REACHING ALL IN-NEED
*Nearly all surveys were administered at resource fairs so this percent would be higher in
the general population. There was a 30% nonresponse rate for this question.
MANY RESIDENTS ARE STILL NOT GETTING THE HELP THEY NEED
25.6% of respondents not receiving assistance were unaware of assistance programs*
23.7% said they do not need it
8.3% did not qualify for the program
5.8% said that the programs didn’t work for them
7.1% reported their time on the program had expired
CONCLUSIONS
UNAFFORDABILITY IS A REGIONAL ISSUE
PEOPLE VALUE WATER, ARE WILLING TO PAY
WHAT THEY CAN AFFORD
BILLS ARE PAID, BUT UNAFFORDABLE
ASSISTANCE IS HELPING REDUCE COSTS,
BUT IS NOT CLOSING THE AFFORDABILITY GAP
THANK YOU!
THANK YOU TO SURVEY PARTICIPANTS
WHO SHARED THEIR STORIES.
QUESTIONS?
3 Counties
5 Team Members
7 Cognitive Interviews
15 Key Informant Interviews
62 Survey Questions
413 Surveys Administered
FOR MORE INFORMATION VISIT: HTTPS://URBANENERGYJUSTICELAB.COM/WATERSECURITY/

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Household Water Security in Metropolitan Detroit: Measuring the Affordability Gap

  • 1. HOUSEHOLD WATER SECURITY IN METROPOLITAN DETROIT: MEASURING THE AFFORDABILITY GAP By Dahlia Rockowitz, Chris Askew-Merwin, Malavika Sahai, Kely Markley, Cria Kay, Tony Reames - PhD, PE
  • 2. RESEARCH FOCUS How are water rates impacting the lives of low-income residents in the Detroit metropolitan region? Utilized quantitative and qualitative methods to provide a regional outlook and assessment of water affordability.
  • 3. TARGET POPULATION: Low-income residents, 200% FPL STUDY AREA: Detroit Metropolitan Statistical Area: Wayne, Oakland, and Macomb Counties STUDY PERIOD: October 2017 to March 2018 STUDY AREA AND TARGET POPULATION
  • 5. SURVEY DEMOGRAPHICS At least 60% at or below 150% Federal Poverty Level (<18K/year). 55%RECEIVING ASSISTANCE <$18K ANNUAL INCOME 60% 29% 6% 5% $42K+ $30-42K $18-30K
  • 6. MAJOR FINDINGS UNAFFORDABILITY IS A REGIONAL ISSUE PEOPLE VALUE WATER, ARE WILLING TO PAY WHAT THEY CAN AFFORD BILLS ARE PAID, BUT UNAFFORDABLE ASSISTANCE IS HELPING REDUCE COSTS, BUT IS NOT CLOSING THE AFFORDABILITY GAP
  • 7. MAJOR FINDINGS: UNAFFORDABILITY IS A REGIONAL ISSUE Data Source: Michigan GIS Open Data 10% vs. 4.5% Respondents pay on-average 10% of their income to water bill. 4.5% is U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s affordability benchmark for water and wastewater services. LOWER INCOME, HIGHER BURDEN Lowest income respondents (150% FPL or lower) pay $100.12/month, 13.6% of their income.
  • 8. MAJOR FINDINGS: PEOPLE VALUE WATER, ARE WILLING TO PAY WHAT THEY CAN AFFORD AFFORDABILITY GAP: $45.08/MONTH, $540.96/YEAR ONLY 1.4% OF RESPONDENTS SAID THEY EXPECT FREE WATER. $98.61AVERAGE WATER BILL 10% OF MONTHLY INCOME $53.53AMOUNT REPORTED BY RESPONDENTS TO BE AN AFFORDABLE WATER BILL 5% OF MONTHLY INCOME
  • 9. * “Paid but unaffordable” is a phrase used by Roger Colton to describe residents trading-off expenses to pay their utility bills. MAJOR FINDINGS: BILLS ARE PAID, BUT UNAFFORDABLE* 84% of respondents cut back on monthly expenses to pay for water 51% switched between paying gas/electric and water bills RENT OR PROPERTY TAX TRANSPORTATION MEDICINE MEDICAL OR DENTAL CARE FRESH PRODUCE CLOTHES SCHOOL SUPPLIES 84% 68% 38% 47% 63% 82% 60% Where people cut back on monthly expenses
  • 10. MAJOR FINDINGS: ASSISTANCE IS HELPING REDUCE COSTS, BUT IS NOT CLOSING THE AFFORDABILITY GAP UNAFFORDABLE WATER ADDS UP 24.7% of respondents who said they struggled to pay their water bill mentioned debt as a leading cause 62.8% of all respondents owe money on their water bill Average water bill debt: $670.74 UNABLE TO INVEST IN THE LONG TERM 29% of respondents who said they struggled to pay their water bill mentioned leaks as a leading cause
  • 11. MAJOR FINDINGS: ASSISTANCE IS HELPING REDUCE COSTS, BUT IS NOT CLOSING THE AFFORDABILITY GAP HOUSEHOLDS ON ASSISTANCE ARE STILL STRUGGLING 79.1% of respondents on assistance are still paying > 4.5% 94.3% of respondents on assistance are still making cut-backs WATER STRUGGLES CONTINUE TO CAUSE DISRUPTION 74 households have been shut-off in the past two years. - Of households that experienced shut-off, 48.6% had seniors or children under 18 years old in the home. 20 households had children miss or change schools due to a water issue. 8 households lost their housing due to a water issue.
  • 12. MAJOR FINDINGS: ASSISTANCE IS NOT REACHING ALL IN-NEED *Nearly all surveys were administered at resource fairs so this percent would be higher in the general population. There was a 30% nonresponse rate for this question. MANY RESIDENTS ARE STILL NOT GETTING THE HELP THEY NEED 25.6% of respondents not receiving assistance were unaware of assistance programs* 23.7% said they do not need it 8.3% did not qualify for the program 5.8% said that the programs didn’t work for them 7.1% reported their time on the program had expired
  • 13. CONCLUSIONS UNAFFORDABILITY IS A REGIONAL ISSUE PEOPLE VALUE WATER, ARE WILLING TO PAY WHAT THEY CAN AFFORD BILLS ARE PAID, BUT UNAFFORDABLE ASSISTANCE IS HELPING REDUCE COSTS, BUT IS NOT CLOSING THE AFFORDABILITY GAP
  • 14. THANK YOU! THANK YOU TO SURVEY PARTICIPANTS WHO SHARED THEIR STORIES. QUESTIONS? 3 Counties 5 Team Members 7 Cognitive Interviews 15 Key Informant Interviews 62 Survey Questions 413 Surveys Administered FOR MORE INFORMATION VISIT: HTTPS://URBANENERGYJUSTICELAB.COM/WATERSECURITY/