Detroit, No Money, No Water, No Problem


Ottawa, ON -- (SBWIRE) -- 11/12/2014 -- Something weird is going on just across the Canada/US border, within sight of Windsor. Water valves in poor Detroit neighbourhoods are being shut off, leaving and thousands of people wthout tap water.

According to the October report submitted by Detroit Water and Sewerage Department (DWSD) Director Sue McCormick, there have been 29,625 accounts shut off since January of this year, some 5,000 in September alone. Of that total 16,234 have been restored-leaving 13,000 households without water, or more than likely 30,000 to 50,000 people.

The story goes a long way back when the city began its economic and population decline. As the population dwindled, there were huge gaps in water revenue and the city took on a large amount of debt.

Justin Wedes, co-founder of the Detroit Water Brigade and the Occupy Wall Street Movement says, “Detroit water is about $80 to $90 a month which is twice the national average, in a city where over 60% of the population lives below the poverty level. Nearly half the city's water bills are delinquent.”

Yet, for regulars at the Capuchin Soup Kitchen, the water shut-off are having little impact.

"A lot of the people we serve are already invading abandoned buildings, or they're homeless; so for years we've been operating a shelter because a lot of the people don't have bathing facilities in their homes or they're living on the streets and don't have anywhere else to shower. So, this situation with the water shut-offs now in Detroit doesn't affect many of the people we deal with," says Jerry Smith, Executive Director Capuchin Soup Kitchen.

In October, after a three-day visit to Detroit neighbourhoods where the water had been cut off, UN special rapporteurs Catarina de Albuquerque and Leilani Farha declared that the water shutoffs threaten a range of human rights.

"The denial of access to a sufficient quantity of water ... (threatens) the right to life and the right [to not] be discriminated against. It exacerbates inequalities, it stigmatizes people, and renders the most vulnerable even more helpless," Albuquerque said. That the water shutoffs seem to affect almost exclusively black Americans living in low-income housing furthers the problem.

How did Motor City, the shining emblem of American wealth come to this? While the decline of the automotive industry and the recent economic downturn are major factors, Detroiters also blame mismanagement, the white flight to the suburbs and coporate tax breaks as leading causes.

"There's certainly a lot of mismanagement but there's also a serious underlying problem in that Detroit's footprint which is extraordinarily large, around 140 square miles, was intended to service a population of 2 million or more and we now have a population which is likely under 700,000, and the infrastructure is ageing," says Peter Hammer Director, Damon J. Keith Center for Civil Rights, Professor, Wayne State University Law School.

For Michael Mulholland, acting president AFSCMEF Local 207, cuts to business tax rates are also to blame. “In the receding wake of concern for urban area rebellion, the federal government cut more and more slack to corporations and after decades of this your infrastructure is falling apart, bridges are falling apart, sewers, freeways, everything needs to be rebuilt and Detroit is part of that pattern,” he says.

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