When the water trucks arrived near Arlyssa Heard’s home on the west side of Detroit at the end of June, the 42-year-old single mother of two said it felt like the entire neighborhood was being taken over. “There were water trucks literally circling up and down blocks. I’d never seen so many in my life,” she says. “It’s like they were the police hunting down a criminal.” It may not have been a police crackdown, but what she witnessed was definitely a crackdown of a sort. Since last year, the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department has been turning off water at the homes of customers behind on their bills.
The shut-off campaign comes at a time of crisis and hastened recovery for Detroit, which became the largest American city to ever file for bankruptcy last summer. The value of the bonds associated with the water department’s debt comes to $5.7 billion, which constitutes almost one-third of the amount estimated to have pushed Detroit into bankruptcy.