By Suzi Warren, Program Associate, US Water Alliance

March 16, 2018

Utilities across the country grapple with affordability concerns for their customers. The heart of the issue is ensuring that everyone has access to affordable water and sewer service, while also generating sufficient utility revenues to cover rising costs, deal with aging infrastructure, and protect public health. These challenges were the guiding principles behind the creation of the fifth policy brief in the One Water for America Policy Framework: Redefine Affordability for the 21st Century.

To dive into these issues, the US Water Alliance brought together a team of experts to discuss two case studies tackling affordability challenges. Rob Curry, Executive Director of CHN Housing Partners and Constance Haqq, Director of Administration and External Affairs for Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District represented Cleveland, while Debra McCarty, Commissioner for Philadelphia Water and Josie Pickens, Co-Director for the Energy Unit at the Community Legal Services of Philadelphia represented Philadelphia.

In Cleveland, there are a number of services available to assist the local low-income community. Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District (NEORSD) conduced a rate study in 2016, which indicated that only half of the eligible customers were enrolled in their cost-saving programs, such as crisis assistance and plumbing repair. CHN Housing Partners is an affordable housing developer with a utility-pay program that works with the existing low-income communities in the region, all of which are NEORSD customers. By partnering with NEORSD, they can reach a broader audience and invest in economies of scale.

In Philadelphia, their tiered affordability program is designed so customers receive the same bill based on income every month. Any eligible customer can enroll, and they do not need to be a delinquent customer to participate, which means people can proactively join. By partnering with Community Legal Services, they designed a smart affordability program, and could expand their education and outreach in the community. The benefits of the Philadelphia Water affordability program work synergistically with the mission and work of Community Legal Services, providing multiple benefits for low-income Philadelphians.

Partnerships like these are tackling the challenge of affordability and help make sure that vulnerable community voices are being heard and that more stakeholders have a seat at the table.

The US Water Alliance worked with more than 40 partner organizations to host 15 One Water for America Listening Sessions. These discussions, which took place all across the country, engaged more than 500 leaders inside and outside the water sector. What we heard from these diverse stakeholders was truly inspiring. Across the nation, people from all walks of life are working to advance sustainable water management. The insights from the Listening Sessions have been synthesized into seven big ideas for the sustainable management of water. Together we are calling these ideas and policy solutions the One Water for America Policy Framework.