Enhancing Urban Water Affordability

Urban households across the United States—and the water departments that serve them—are under tremendous financial pressure to maintain access to safe drinking water. Diminished federal support for water infrastructure investments and stagnant state-level subsidies have resulted in municipal water departments raising water rates. This pattern, which has grown over the last decade, has caused a growing water poverty cycle in cities across the US, where poor urban households experience water shut-offs that often end with home foreclosures. There is a growing water affordability crisis in U.S. cities. Our research seeks both to understand the nature of water poverty in U.S. cities and to examine potential local-level policy responses. Based on an analysis of ten case study cities, we explore the spatial and demographic character, as well as prevalence, of urban neighborhoods hardest hit by a water poverty cycle that starts with shut-offs, and in some cases, ends with home foreclosures. We also examine the different types of Customer Assistance Programs that water utilities run to understand how well they reach vulnerable households. Ultimately, we are working to build two major online interactive platforms: one for municipal water utilities and one for residents and their advocates. These sites will give stakeholders a way to assess where their neighborhood and city stands with regard to water poverty and will help to envision policy alternatives to the water poverty cycle that begins with shut-offs.

Visit the project website.

The State of Research on Water Affordability in US Cities

Ways Forward: Initiatives and Programs with Promise

Immediate Priorities: Debating Reform Pathways