Some 50 demonstrators on Thursday held a protest outside the offices of Homrich, a company contracted by the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department (DWSD) to stop the flow to residences at least two months past due on their accounts. At least nine of the activists were arrested by Detroit police and charged with disorderly conduct when they temporarily blocked trucks from leaving the company’s parking lot [...]This is all part of an overzealous move to address Detroit’s $18 billion debt (of which $6 billion can be attributed to DWSD), in a city where half the residents are behind in their water bills.
The activists say that in a city with a poverty rate of 44 percent, and where water bills are higher than in much of the country, Detroit should work out a solution with poor residents instead of leaving them dry. Otherwise, they say, they’ll have no other choice but to take to the streets.
But it’s certainly not a question of people being unwilling to pay.
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.The situation has gotten so bad that Detroit activists successfully petitioned a U.N. panel to call the water shutoffs a violation of human rights, and now Canadians from across the border have generously offered to donate thousands of gallons of water for Detroit’s population.
So how did Detroit get into this situation, and why is the DWSD suddenly sending shut-off notices to low-income residents—some of whom were behind by as little as $150 in their water bills? It has a lot to do with Republican Gov. Rick Snyder appointing an “Emergency Manager” to clean up the city’s finances after Detroit went bankrupt in 2013.
Detroit filed the largest Chapter 9 municipal bankruptcy action in US history in July 2013. Or, rather, Jones Day, the giant corporate law firm and employer of Kevyn Orr, the "emergency manager" appointed by Michigan Governor Rick Snyder, filed that action in Detroit's name. [...] The governance and access to billions of dollars in revenue flowing through the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department (DWSD) has become, as knowledgeable observers always knew it would, a major political football and economic prize in this struggle. [...] The objective is to eliminate bad debt and make DWSD look better on paper for purposes of active ongoing regionalization and privatization negotiations.So if you’re attending Netroots Nation, what can you do? For starters, National Nurses United is planning a march on Friday at 1:00 p.m. to demand a moratorium on water shut-offs.
And regardless of whether you’ll be in Detroit next week, here are some great local resources:
The Detroit Water Brigade has an excellent website with tons of info, that you should bookmark. You can also like them on Facebook and follow them on Twitter. The People’s Water Board also has a good blog, which provides some background information and events.