CLEVELAND — Nichole Sallie of Cleveland is a mother of three, her 15-year-old daughter has disabilities, the extended pandemic has had an impact on her income, and a Dec. 21 fire in third floor bedroom has left her wondering if she'll be able keep home.
She's also worried she will have difficulties paying her utility bills including her Cleveland water bill, and is hoping Cleveland will again suspend water shut-offs.
Nichole has set up a GoFundMe account hoping to collect enough donations to repair her home and keep her from becoming homeless.
“I was extremely terrified, fire is my biggest fear," Sallie said. “I thought we were going to lose everything, I was just extremely terrified by it.”
“I definitely think they should suspend it, there are too many people going through tough times with this pandemic. I hope that it’s not too tough to stay in the home because we don’t have anywhere else to go."
Larry Bressler, Coordinator with citizens group End Poverty Now, agrees Cleveland needs to again put a hold on water shut-offs during the rekindled pandemic.
“One out five residents in the City of Cleveland who have Cleveland Water are behind in their water," Bressler said “That suggests something much more systemic than people simply falling behind. It suggests that the water rates are too high, it suggests that we have some substantial problems.”
“I think it’s critical that the city looks at the way its water department operates, and look at ways we could potentially be more efficient. The last thing that should be happening is people being without water. Water is an essential utility, water is something that is essential for life. To be without water in your home is something that we can’t allow to happen. I think that the city needs to look at going back to having a moratorium.”
“They need to look at using American rescue Plan Funds to help subsidize the water department to make sure that people have their water on.”
The Cleveland Division of water issued the following statement in response to our story:
"It’s important for customers who are behind on their bills or struggling with payments to contact us as soon as possible. There are several financial relief tools available to assist them, including manageable payment plans to help pay off balances and affordability programs that can lower the cost of future bills. A customer service representative can review a customer’s account and help determine what options are available.
After enacting a shut-off moratorium in March 2020, Cleveland Water resumed disconnections for non-payment in July 2021. We are taking a tiered approach to shut offs and started with accounts that had balances over $4,800, decreasing the threshold amount every month. As of Jan. 1, the threshold is at $2,100."
CHN Housing Partners announced it is responding to the need, that assistance will soon be available to help residents with water and sewer bills under its new Low Income Household Water Assistance Program, which will begin on January 18.
Brandon Sheil, Administrative Manager with the CHN Housing Partners Utility Assistance Team told News 5 under the program qualifying Cuyahoga County residents can obtain a one-time $750 payment toward their water bill, and a one-time $750 payment to help with their sewer bill through Sept. of 2022.
“Water and sewer has been an issue and a barrier that they have been experiencing during the pandemic as well, so it’s very timely," Sheil said. "Being proactive and making sure that you are at least creating a plan and following through is important.”
“Eligible clients are those who are at or below 175% of the federal poverty guidelines. For example a family of four, the annual income must be below about $46,375."
Cuyahoga County residents can call CHN housing Partners to schedule an appointment at 216-350-8008 or sign-up on the agency website.
In response to our story, Ward 9 Cleveland Councilman Kevin Conwell said he'll speak with new Cleveland Mayor Justin Bibb to see if the city would suspend water shut-offs under certain circumstances.
"People can’t pay their utility bills, or their gas bill, or their water bills," Conwell said. “If they come with hardship cases, that we could suspend water bills and rollback. I will have a conversation with Mayor Bibb about suspending.”