Website lets donors pay Detroit residents' overdue water bills

DETROIT Thu Jul 24, 2014 6:30pm EDT

People hold a banner against the mass water shut-offs to Detroit citizens behind in their payments, during a protest in downtown Detroit, Michigan July 18, 2014. REUTERS/Rebecca Cook

People hold a banner against the mass water shut-offs to Detroit citizens behind in their payments, during a protest in downtown Detroit, Michigan July 18, 2014.

Credit: Reuters/Rebecca Cook

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DETROIT (Reuters) - Widespread water shutoffs in Detroit have led to the creation of a website that allows donors to anonymously pay the overdue bills of residents in the bankrupt city, a site organizer said on Thursday.

Recent efforts by the cash-strapped municipal water authority to collect tens of millions of dollars in overdue bills has attracted international attention and critics say the disconnections are inhumane and unfair to the poor.

The donor site, DetroitWaterProject.org, was born from a Twitter conversation between programmer Tiffani Bell of Fayetteville, North Carolina and designer Kristy Tillman of Boston who were concerned about the water issue, Bell said in an email.

Customers with delinquent bills share their account information with the site, where they are matched with donors. Names and addresses are not made public.

Since the site went up Friday, it has collected $15,000 from 2,000 donors from as far away as the United Kingdom, allowing 19 accounts to be paid off.

"Fortunately, generosity needs no passport," Bell said.

Detroit's water department is not involved with the website, and doesn't sanction or approve it, said spokesman Bill Johnson. He also cautioned people about sharing personal information.

The department this week issued a 15-day moratorium on shutting off residential customers with delinquent accounts, but are continuing to shut off commercial accounts and any accounts with illegal hook-ups.

According to the department's June compliance report, there were a total of 4,531 shut-offs for non-payment, with service restored for 2,324 customers.

(Reporting by Aaron Foley in Detroit; Editing by Mary Wisniewski and Eric Walsh)

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