Author Topic: Going Without Water in Detroit  (Read 1647 times)

Offline Reginald Hudlin

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Going Without Water in Detroit
« on: July 04, 2014, 05:11:55 am »
Going Without Water in Detroit

DETROIT — A FAMILY of five with no water for two weeks who were embarrassed to ask friends if they could bathe at their house. A woman excited about purchasing a home who learned she would be held responsible for the previous owner’s delinquent water bill: all $8,000 of it. A 90-year-old woman with bedsores and no water available to clean them.

These are the stories that keep Mia Cupp up at night.

Ms. Cupp is the director of development and communication for the Wayne Metropolitan Community Action Agency, a nonprofit contracted by the state of Michigan to work as a human-services agency for Detroit. In August 2013, with a $1 million allocation, Wayne Metro became the only program to assist residents with water bills. Ms. Cupp quickly learned that this was “by far the greatest need.”

In January alone, Wayne Metro received 10,000 calls for water assistance, many of them referred directly by the Detroit Department of Water and Sewerage. It supported 904 water customers over 10 months before exhausting its funding in June. Ms. Cupp said Wayne Metro still gets hundreds of calls a day from residents. But it has no way to help them, and nowhere to refer them.

Detroit borders the Great Lakes system, containing 21 percent of the world’s surface freshwater. The lakes are the source of the city’s water supply, but a growing number of residents can’t turn on the tap. Over the past three months, the water department has conducted an aggressive shut-off campaign to get more than 90,000 customers to pay $90.3 million in past-due bills. Between March 25 and June 14, 12,500 Detroit customers had their water shut off.

The average monthly water bill in Detroit is $75 for a family of four — nearly twice the United States average — and the department is increasing rates this month by 8.7 percent. Over the past decade, sales have decreased by 20 to 30 percent, while the water department’s fixed costs and debt have remained high. Nonpayment of bills is also common. The increasing strain on the department’s resources is then passed on to customers.

But residents aren’t the only ones with delinquent accounts. Darryl Latimer, the department’s deputy director, told me that the State of Michigan holds its biggest bill: $5 million for water at state fairgrounds. (The state disputes the bill, arguing that it’s not responsible for the costs of infrastructure leaks.)

A local news investigation revealed that Joe Louis Arena, home of the Detroit Red Wings, owed $82,255 as of April. Ford Field, where the Detroit Lions play, owed more than $55,000. City-owned golf courses owed more than $400,000. As of July 2, none had paid. Mr. Latimer said the Department of Water and Sewerage would post notice, giving these commercial customers 10 days to pay before cutting service. But he did not say when.

And in the meantime the city is going after any customers who are more than 60 days late and owe at least $150.

The department reports that 60 percent of its customers pay in full or begin a payment plan within 24 hours of a shut-off, and water service is reinstated. Mr. Latimer said that this proved that many could afford their bills, and simply weren’t paying them.

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The city of Detroit, which filed for bankruptcy protection a year ago, certainly has not just the right but the obligation to demand payment of outstanding bills.

But cutting water to homes risks a public health crisis.

Instead, the water department should more aggressively target delinquent commercial customers who carry a large share of the unpaid bills. It should enact a comprehensive plan to fix leaking pipes; flooded streets are common here, and water customers — whether the state or ordinary residents — must pay for sewerage, not just running water, and often are billed erroneously for these leaks.

The department must also ensure that water is shut off to abandoned buildings, and eliminate errors in address transfers. Mr. Latimer explained that the department used addresses rather than names as the collectible agent on an account — a problematic practice in a city of 80,000 vacancies, rife with foreclosures.

Ms. Cupp said that the average bill for the residents Wayne Metro has helped was $1,600; she saw one as high as $10,000. The water department’s standard payment plan requires at least a 30 percent down payment. This is out of reach for many. To increase participation, the department should eliminate the down payment, as well as the $30 reconnection fee it charges.

The department went on the record with local news organizations last week, saying that it would introduce a financial-assistance program on July 1 in partnership with a nonprofit, the Heat and Warmth Fund, and would use more than $800,000 in funds collected through 50-cent donations on monthly bills.

This was good news, but the announcement was premature. On July 1, a representative for the nonprofit said the program might not be operational until August. Meanwhile, Ms. Cupp said Wayne Metro had asked the water department to stop giving out its number to needy customers until it could get additional funding.

Mr. Latimer said that mass shut-offs were the only way to find the shirkers: Those who can pay will do so quickly. But their neighbors are left to fill jugs of water at the homes of friends or at fire hydrants to meet basic needs. Even for a city that has grown accustomed to limited city services, like streetlights and police response times, this is a new low.

“I’ve seen water problems in poor countries and the third world,” said Maude Barlow, the board chairwoman of the nonprofit Food and Water Watch. “But I’ve never seen this in the United States, never

Offline Hypestyle

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Canadian Charity wants to help Detroiters get water
« Reply #1 on: July 09, 2014, 06:55:37 pm »
Detroit resident Nicole Hill owes nearly $6,000 US on her water bill and showers at the homes of friends and family. She's among people in the bankrupt city who are struggling to maintain everyday life. (Paul Sancya/Associated Press)
Detroit turns off the tap   

    UN: Disconnecting water an affront to human rights
    Council of Canadians: Water Crisis in Detroit Escalates

(Note: CBC does not endorse and is not responsible for the content of external links.)

Thousands of Detroit residents are facing a reality rarely seen around the Great Lakes: Life without water.

But a Canadian group is leading the charge against a controversial plan to stop water service on delinquent accounts.

The bankrupt city is shutting off water at a rate of 3,000 residents per week. It also recently increased water rates by nine per cent.

    Detroit bankruptcy adviser: More U.S. cities to go bankrupt
    Detroit files bankruptcy restructuring plan on $18B debt
    Detroit's bankruptcy shows even pensions aren't safe

Nearly half of the 329,000 accounts are in arrears and the average cost of a Detroit water bill is double the national average.

Maude Barlow, chair of the Council of Canadians, flagged Detroit's plan to deal with delinquent accounts to the United Nations earlier this year. The UN calls the plan to shut off water a clear violation of human rights.

"I've seen this in the poorest countries in the world," Barlow said. "This is what we call failed states, but to see this in North America, it's a disgrace."

Detroit is $18 billion US in debt. About $12 billion of that is unsecured, meaning there aren't taxes or other revenue streams to pay it.

There's about $6 billion in Detroit Water and Sewage Department (DWSD) debt, which is secured by water bill payments.

There is a proposal to contract out the water business to a private regional player.
'It's appalling'

The Council of Canadians say many observers believe shutting off water is an attempt to appeal to potential private investors.

"We're sitting on the Great Lakes, supplying a fifth of the world’s surface water. It’s appalling," Barlow said.

Barlow will be part of a convoy bringing what she called "good Canadian, public, clean water" across the river to Detroit on July 24.

"Our water is their water," Barlow said.
Maude Barlow

Maude Barlow will lead a convoy of Canadians bringing water to Detroit on July 24. (Council of Canadians)

She is also preparing an appeal to the White House.

"We’re going right to the top," Barlow said.

She has one question for President Barack Obama.

"There are potentially 500,000 people who are going to spend a good part of the summer, in the heat, in the summer, without water. Is that OK with you?" she said.

Barlow has toured Detroit, documented her findings and appealed to the United Nations.

Nicole Hill is behind on her water bill. Her toilets are empty and her taps don't run.

"I turn it on, nothing comes out. You don't hear anything but the squeaking of the faucets," Hill said.

She owes nearly $6,000. To have her taps turned back on, she will have to pay $4,449.

Hill, who is on disability, says she has paid as much as she can.

"I've pretty much used most of my reserve and most of my food budget on purchasing water," she said. "Right now, I'm just trying not to lose my mind."

Hill voluntarily sends her three children to stay with their grandmother.

"They're not able to stay in the home. Technically, I shouldn't be staying here, but I am because we have break-ins around here as well," Hill said. "I have to go to someone else's house to shower."

Leilani Farha, the UN's expert on the right to adequate housing, is concerned social services is removing children from their families and homes because, without access to water, their housing is no longer considered adequate.

Critics, such as Barlow, say the city isn't offering solutions to its struggling customers.

Barlow wants Detroit to set up an affordability program, while at the same time aggressively pursuing corporate and business accounts she claims are $30 million in arrears.
Assistance available

Detroit says it's ready and willing to help.

"We will continue to provide them service and help them get the assistance they need," said Darryl Latimer, who speaks for the city's water and sanitation department.

Latimer says the city will work with people who legitimately cannot pay their bills.

The DWSD says it currently has more than 17,000 Detroit customers enrolled in a successful payment plan program that is "designed to fit each customer’s financial situation and ability to pay."

In July, the DWSD also plans to launch a new financial assistance program for the city’s indigent population.

The United Nations says the only reason to shut off residents' water is to prove they're capable of paying, but choosing not to.

"When there is genuine inability to pay, human rights simply forbids disconnection,” said Catarina de Albuquerque, the UN's expert on the human right to water and sanitation.

Latimer says there are 79,000 delinquent residential accounts in Detroit.

By the end of May, he says the water was cut off to 12,500 residents.

Latimer says the department is trying to distinguish between those who can pay but choose not to, and those who legitimately cannot pay the bill.

"We want them to come in so that we can assist them so that they can maintain their service," he said.
'As few shut-offs as possible'

DWSD director Sue McCormick said the goal is "to have as few shut-offs as possible."

McCormick also said that among those who do receive shut-off notices, only a small fraction of them are actually cut off.

In May, for example, DWSD sent out 46,000 notices. Of those, only 4,531 customers — less than 10 per cent of the total — had their water service cut for any period of time, according to the department.

Within 24 hours, 60 per cent of the affected customers paid their accounts in full, the department said.

“Many of the properties that we shut off are actually vacant structures, not occupied homes,” McCormick said.

Meanwhile, the Detroit Water Brigade is a group of volunteers bringing water to those who need it.

They are stockpiling bottled water and affordable rainwater collection systems in order to provide potable water, and water for sanitary use.

A distribution centre has been established, where people can come and get water to take home. Home deliveries are also being made.

"I understand that the water department needs money, but they cannot go around just doing unfashionable things like cutting off people's water and leaving us in an unfortunate situation," said Meeko Williams, an activist with the Detroit Water Brigade. "It's going to be hot all this week, and we need to get people the adequate water supplies they need to stay hydrated."
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Offline Hypestyle

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Avenger joins water shutoff protest in Detroit
« Reply #2 on: July 18, 2014, 05:05:47 pm »

Avengers star Mark Ruffalo lent his star power to a left-wing conference and a related water rights protest in downtown Detroit, Michigan, this afternoon.

Ruffalo, a.k.a. the Incredible Hulk, made a surprise visit to Netroots Nation this morning to show his support for progressive champion and Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren and to promote a demonstration against the city of Detroit taking place down the road.

'Wow, Elizabeth Warren. Wow, right?' he said upon taking the stage after Warren's well-received keynote address.

Ruffalo did not endorse Warren outright in his remarks to the conference, however the actor, who is a known supporter of progressive causes, said he was there to hear her speak in addition to attending the rally.

After Warren's speech, Ruffalo snapped a picture with her and sent it out through his non-profit organization's twitter account.

Afterward, he joined a demonstration across the street from the conference location and urged the city of Detroit to stop turning off the water at residencies where owners have not paid their bills for months at a time.

'You built this nation, ok?' the Academy Award winning actor told protesters as the rally began. 'And what's happening in Detroit is a model for what could be happening in this nation.

'Instead of a nation for the .001 percent, it's a nation for all.'

Ruffalo marched with water rights activists for about 20 minutes through the streets of downtown Detroit before peeling off near the conclusion of the demonstration.

Matt Nelson, an organizer with progressive group Color of Change, told MailOnline that acclaimed actor heard about the rally through the group's petition page calling on Michigan Governor Rick Snyder and Detroit Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr to stop the shutoffs.

A note at the bottom of the page said that Color of Change would be participating in a rally today with National Nurses United and Progressive Democrats for America. Nelson said Ruffalo contacted Color of Change yesterday and asked if he could attend the rally, too.

'Turn on the Water, DETROIT! Tax Wall Street! March & Rally Friday, July 18,' Ruffalo tweeted last night. 'Let's go to this.'

Read more:
I'm here to shed a little light on what’s happening — the travesty that’s happening here in Detroit with these people’s water,' Ruffalo told WWJ Newsradio 950′s Sandra McNeil in an interview at the rally. 'It’s an absolute travesty; you’d think we were living in a third world nation.

'We’re happy to send money all over the world to help other people in their crisis, and we can’t take care of our own people; and the American people have got to know that this is wrong, and that it’s happening here and that it should be stopped,' he said.

'Did you know..."until recently, Detroit actually had a program that helped low-income residents pay their water bills," ' Ruffalo tweeted after the rally

Read more:
« Last Edit: July 18, 2014, 05:22:28 pm by Hypestyle »
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Offline Battle

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Re: Going Without Water in Detroit
« Reply #3 on: April 02, 2019, 04:33:06 pm »
"I'll Sue!"
Monday, 1st April 2019
Flint residents can sue former Michigan governor over water disaster, judge rules
by Detroit Free Press

(FLINT, Mich.) – A judge says former Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder can be sued by residents in the Flint water scandal, reversing a decision from last summer.

Residents claim Snyder violated their right to bodily integrity by repeatedly doing nothing as Flint used corrosive water that released lead from old pipes.

Judge Judith Levy says a right to bodily integrity is a “fundamental interest” protected by the U.S. Constitution.

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