An Update on the Detroit Water Crisis

The city of Detroit and the water department have finally responded to the outcry from activists and groups such as the UN. Effective immediately, the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department has halted all shutoffs for the next 15 days. This action was most likely also caused at least partially due to a lawsuit that was filed today on behalf of the people who have already had their water service turned off.

During the next 15 days, people who are delinquent but have the ability to pay should make arrangements with the water department to prevent the loss of water when this temporary relief ends. However, the reality is that the majority of the people who are on the pending shutoffs list do not have the money that is owed. Therefore, it is critical for activist groups and legal teams to continue working vigilantly toward a better solution for everyone before the shutoffs start happening again.

Turning off the water for households that are below the poverty level is not the right way to collect past due balances. After all, this denies these individuals the opportunity to bathe and cook, and these third-world type conditions are not conducive to finding or keeping a job that could provide enough money to work out a payment arrangement. Additionally, people who truly do not have the ability to pay due to issues such as unemployment and disabilities should not be forced to live without water because it is an essential aspect of life. Instead, humanitarian solutions should be utilized such as enabling other residents to donate $1 per bill toward a fund for impoverished residents. The Detroit Water Brigade has also suggested implementing a water affordability plan that would cap future bills at 2.5 percent of each household’s income. Hopefully some progress will be made within this 15-day grace period toward instituting some type of relief plan for the city’s residents who live below the poverty line.

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The Detroit Water Crisis

At least 30,000 households in Detroit have had their water turned off during the last couple of months, and yet somehow this problem has not become major national news. Perhaps this is due to the misconception that Detroit is somehow less important than other areas of the country. However, this school of thought is both erroneous and highly offensive to everyone who has ever lived in the area.

The reality is that Detroit is a city that has been extremely mismanaged from a government standpoint for several decades, and this has led to higher than average crime rates and foreclosures. Residents have been struggling to make ends meet ever since the auto industry deserted the city. The unemployment rate was officially at almost 30 percent in 2010, but local media reports indicated that the true unemployment was closer to 50 percent. When you combine this with exorbitant service fees and a 119 percent increase in water costs since 2004, it is no wonder that so many people find it impossible to pay this bill in full on time.

Sadly, the emergency manager who was put in place by Republican Governor Rick Snyder clearly does not care about the city’s history or how it has impacted residents. Instead, the decision was made to shut off water service to the city’s most vulnerable households as part of the bankruptcy plan. This is a cruel program that intentionally targets people living below the poverty line and those who are elderly, disabled, single mothers and mentally ill. Shockingly, many people around the country have spoken out on behalf of the water company by using slurs such as “deadbeats” to describe people who no longer have access to clean water. This is a testament to the fact that compassion is not something that everyone possesses, and it also helps highlight the many problems with a society that values money more than human life.

The United Nations stipulates that water is a human right. Due to this, they issued a press release stating that disconnecting water service because people are unable to pay their bill is a violation of international human rights, including the right to water. National Nurses United has also thrown their weight behind this cause, and they have dubbed it a public health emergency. These public condemnations and multiple rallies and protests within the city limits have so far done nothing to stop the problem. Most politicians have ignored the plight of the Detroit people, and this is almost as unconscionable as the people who made the decision to move forward with this devastating course of action.

It is unclear at this point if the city’s goal of disconnecting up to 40 percent of their residents will come to fruition, but there is currently no reason to believe that it will not. Meanwhile, local news channels have reported that sports stadiums and golf courses owe as much as $200,000 each, but no action has been taken against these businesses. When you consider the fact that residents are having their water turned off for being only $150 behind, it is clear that these shut-offs are nothing more than a direct assault on people who are poor. After all, the money that is owed by the Palmer Park Golf Club is more than the minimum shut off amount for more than 1,300 residents. Therefore, it would make much more sense to go after this one business, but instead the water company is paying workers to deny thousands of residents the water that they need to live.

Have some residents allowed their water bill to get out of hand because they mismanaged their money? Of course. However, this is not enough to justify removing a human right from what is estimated to eventually be as many as 300,000 people, especially because many of them quite simply do not have the financial means to keep up with the ever increasing cost of water in Detroit. As you can see from the water bill below, there is a ridiculous service charge of $27.54 applied to $45.56 worth of water usage. To make matters even worse, sewer charges for only one month are more than $115.

Would you like to help the people of Detroit? You can do so by visiting the Detroit Water Brigade.