#AceNewsServices – UNITED STATES (Detroit) – June 23 – As the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department moves to shut off water to thousands of residents who are delinquent on their bills, a coalition of activists is appealing to the United Nations High Commission for Human Rights to intervene on behalf of the bankrupt city’s most vulnerable citizens.
A neighborhood in Detroit, MI. (AP/Paul Sancya)
Their report, filed Wednesday with the UN’s Special Rapporteur on the Human Right to Safe Drinking Water and Sanitation, alleges that the DWSD crackdown is part of an effort “to sweeten the pot for a private investor” to take over the city’s heavily-indebted water and sewer system as part of Detroit’s broader bankruptcy proceedings.
(UN’s Special Rapporteur on the Human Right to Safe Drinking Water and Sanitation)
One of the activist groups behind the report, the Detroit People’s Water Board, notes that city residents have seen water rates more than double over the past decade at the same time that the city’s poverty rate rose to nearly 40 percent, putting the cost of basic running water beyond reach for tens of thousands of households.
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Earlier this week, city lawmakers voted to raise water rates by a further 8.7 percent.
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The average monthly water bill in the city is currently around $75 per household.
Also contributing to bill delinquency are the “smart meters” that the state installed on homes. After these were installed, residents were asked to determine how much they owed, based on meter readings, rather than being issued a bill by the department. These meters reportedly read backwards, as well, meaning that residents could be charged for previous tenants’ water useage.
According to the water department, city residents owe about $118 million — a figure that does not include what is owed by residents on payment plans or by those who have declared bankruptcy.
Those who fail to pay their bills have the overdue charges rolled into their property taxes, putting an individual’s home at risk for foreclosure if they are unable to pay.
Black residents are predominantly affected by the loss of access to water. As children live in two-thirds of the currently affected residences, child welfare authorities have had to remove some of these children from their homes because of a requirement that all children live in a home with working utilities.
Concerning for Maude Barlow, national chairperson of the Council of Canadians, is that the water department has pledged to turn the water off for all 120,000 residences with delinquent accounts — about3,000 each week — in the city by the end of the summer. However, Barlow says the department has made no plans to shut off the water for any corporation or institution that has failed to pay its water bills.
“What is happening in Detroit is a social crime and a violation of the human right to water and sanitation as recognized by the United Nations,” Barlow said. She explained that the right being violated is the “Obligation to Respect,” which says that a once is given to an individual, that right can’t be taken away.
Part of the reason that so many people in the city have been delinquent on their water bills is that the department’s revenue structure is based on a city that was once home to millions.
Since the population of Detroit has dramatically decreased over the years, the burden of funding the water department has fallen upon the city’s dwindling population.