A New York investment banking company has donated $1 million to a fund designed to help low-income Detroit residents pay their water bills and avoid shutoffs that drew United Nations attention to the city last fall.
The Heat and Warmth Fund announced Sunday that Manhattan-based Miller Buckfire & Co. made the largest gift the nonprofit group ever received from anyone other than a utility company.
The Detroit Water and Sewerage Department approached THAW, as the nonprofit group is known, last summer to administer an aid program for those needing help paying their water bills. THAW said the pilot water aid program helped about 700 people.
As part of last year's financial reorganization, Detroit began working to collect from tens of thousands of delinquent water customers.
"THAW recognizes that countless families struggle to pay multiple utility bills," Saunteel Jenkins, the group's chief executive, said in a statement. She said the company's gift will let her group aid more of them and "help stabilize many households."
Miller Buckfire managing director James Doak said the nonprofit group "has a proven track record of delivering utility assistance with compassion and efficiency and we are excited to see what can be achieved with these funds."
The city said it made about 27,000 shut-offs between Jan. 1 and Sept. 30, 2014, drawing UN human rights investigators. The Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner in October sent two lawyers to investigate their effect on poor residents.
Leilani Farha and Catarina de Albuquerque said during their October visit that the shutoffs affected the poorest and most vulnerable a and particularly discriminate against Detroit's majority black population.
This spring, Detroit's water department said it was renewing collection efforts for an estimated 28,000 delinquent customer accounts.
Sue McCormack said in a statement Sunday that the latest gift should help ease the hardship of the collection effort. She called THAW "a tremendous partner in our efforts to make sure Detroiters in need have the ability to keep their water on."