The city of Chicago announced Thursday it expects to cancel $8.9 million in debt for low-income homeowners who fell behind on their water and sewer bill thanks to a program launched nearly a year ago.
Mayor Lori Lightfoot said the need for services like the Utility Billing Relief program is important for helping “struggling families trying to make ends meet” and moves a step closer to “dismantling the historically regressive fines” that have hurt many Chicagoans.
“Utility Billing Relief and other financial reforms we’ve rolled out since I came into office give the tens of thousands of Chicago residents who accumulate debt each year a pathway into compliance and are part of our broader effort to ensure we are creating equitable policies that work for all Chicagoans,” Lightfoot said in a statement Thursday.
The Utility Billing Relief program helps low-income families by giving them a 50% reduced rate on their water and sewer bill. Those in the program aren’t hit with any late payment penalties or won’t face debt collection activities. It also offers debt forgiveness for those that pay the reduce rate for one year without a past due balance.
Since April 2020, the city has cut in half the water utility bills for 8,539 people who participated in the program. On average, these residents have experienced $1,044 in utility debt canceled.
However, the program has fallen short of the 20,000 families it promised to assist in 2019.
The city’s Department of Finance Comptroller Reshma Soni said they have “been aggressively working to build program awareness using social media, digital billboards, webinars and workshops.” It is now more important than ever to provide a little relief, she said.
“COVID has further exposed families, especially those from low-income communities, with enormous financial challenges that oftentimes include excessive debt,” Soni said in a statement.
Homeowners can check their eligibility at Chicago.gov/ubr or call the city’s Utility Billing & Customer Service Center at 312-744-4426.