Behind on your water bill? The city wants to help

The Utility Billing Relief program will cut some residents’ bills in half. Others will get payment plans to catch up and avoid shut-offs.

SHARE Behind on your water bill? The city wants to help
Ald. Michael Scott Jr. (24th) laughs with Mayor Lori Lightfoot during a news conference at St. Agatha Catholic Church on the South Side on Friday, Nov. 1, 2019.

Ald. Michael Scott Jr. (24th) (left) and Mayor Lori Lightfoot at a news conference Friday about the city’s new utility billing relief program. | Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times

Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times

Help is on the way for some Chicago residents facing water shut-offs.

Low-income customers will be eligible for reduced water rates and help paying water and sewer bills under the city’s new Utility Billing Relief program. Mayor Lori Lightfoot announced details of the program Friday after announcing it in her budget address last month.

The program is expected to help about 20,000 households by cutting their water and sewer bills in half. Other homeowners can set up payment plans to catch up on their bills.

“Our families deserve to live their lives without the constant financial stress imposed by city government,” Lightfoot said. “I know that the vast majority of them would chose to be in compliance. They just need realistic and sensible options.”

The city will accept applications beginning March 1

The program is intended to help Chicago’s low-income communities. Nearly 40 percent of water shut-offs in the past 10 years were in five South and West Side zip codes, according to a study of Great Lakes water rates by AMP Reports.

Communities in the 60628 zip code, including Roseland, Pullman and West Pullman, had the highest number of shut-offs — more than 17,500, the study found.

The mayor’s office said the city is owed over $330 million from past-due water bills.

“For far too long, too many residents have been forced to choose between paying for their water bill or other fundamental necessities,” Lightfoot said.

“This program protects our residents, ensures access to basic human needs and builds on our commitment to reform our government toward ending systems that are punitive for those who can least afford it.”

Participants of the program who keep up with their reduced rate payments for a year will be eligible for debt relief.

To qualify, owners of single-family homes or two-flats must:

  • Have incomes low enough to qualify for Illinois’ Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program, which helps residents with their winter heating bills.
  • Reside at the address.
  • Have their name on the bill as the customer.

Those who do not qualify for the reduced rate will have several other monthly payment options to choose from ranging from six months to two years.

The city is partnering with the Community and Economic Development Association on this program. For more information, email utilitybillrelief@cedaorg.net, text WATERBILL to 313131 or call 312-795-8946.Details also are available online at www.chicago.gov/UBR.

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