Achieving Water Affordability in America’s Shrinking Cities

The United Nations defines an affordable water bill as not exceeding 3% of a household’s income; the EPA suggests 2.5% (as cited in Carolini and Susskind’s lunch presentation). However, in the U.S., there are no regulations to ensure these definitions are met. Lawrence Susskind and Gabriella Carolini’s ESI Seed Grant funded research focuses on the implications of the lack of regulations in America, especially within shrinking cities like Detroit, Philadelphia, and Baltimore. They began their research with questions about who is affected by these shutoffs and what the trends suggest, such as possible correlations between shut offs and vacant homes, recent rises in housing distress, and potential incentives for shut offs, such as tax sales on water debt.

Through these questions and further research, the team came to several conclusions. Water affordability could be evaluated through an income-based model as opposed to bill discounts, cities could follow a no shut off model, which has been adopted in some Maryland cities, and the federal government can provide support for local water utilities.

Next, the research team plans to gather water shut off data in Detroit, test their hypotheses on the ground, and explore Portland’s current no shut-off policy.

For more information about their research, visit their website.

Contributed by Tess MacCurdy, ESI Programs Intern