DETROIT — The Michigan Legislative Black Caucus has called for a moratorium on water shutoffs, a controversial practice the city continued this year targeting the nearly 18,000 residential customers with delinquent payments. Many of those facing imminent shut off have struggled to maintain their water payments in the face of billing issues with the city and rising costs.
“Just as we’ve seen in Flint, when advocates are not on the ground to protect the interests of the people, the entire community suffers,” said state Rep. Sheldon Neeley (D-Flint), chair of the MLBC. “That’s what we’re here to do as legislators, give a voice to the voiceless. We cannot allow the authorities to keep jumping to the last resort when dealing with issues related to water access and affordability. Shutoffs are not the answer — collaboration and understanding are.”
“Access to clean, affordable drinking water is a basic human right,” said state Rep. Sherry Gay-Dagnogo (D-Detroit). “There are a number of alternatives to dealing with late or back payments, but simply cutting off water access should not be one of them. Low-income families who are already struggling to make ends meet cannot possibly catch up on payments when they’re forced to buy bottled water simply to drink, cook and bathe. Our families deserve better, and it is outrageous that the city authorities have let it come to this point.”
Concerns regarding water quality and affordability have plagued the area for the last several years, including issues with residents not receiving water bills for months at a time, only to suddenly receive an exorbitant bill with an immediate due date. Earlier this year, after laying off a number of workers, the Great Lakes Water Authority was unable to issue proper alerts regarding a water emergency in a timely manner. A boil alert warning was issued the evening of Tuesday, Feb. 28, but full details of the locations affected by the alert were not given until late Wednesday morning, leaving many families to consume tainted water without their knowledge.
“The people of Detroit have been struggling for years to maintain their access to affordable and clean water,” said state Rep. Stephanie Chang (D-Detroit). “We have again introduced legislation for shut off protections and water affordability at the state level and this community has been fighting day in and day out for these desperately needed solutions. It is important we work together to find a solution which does not strip families of their dignity or jeopardize their health.”
“I have been fighting this battle in Highland Park and Detroit since I was first elected,” said state Rep. LaTanya Garrett (D-Detroit). “Shutting off water is not the way to deal with payment issues. When it comes to working with residents to find actual solutions to their problems — rather than simply penalizing them — the DWA has been all talk and no action. As public servants, their responsibility should be to the people, not the almighty dollar. We must work collaboratively to provide relief to our citizens and ensure they have access to clean, affordable water. This is our duty.”