Days Black People Not Re-Enslaved By Trump

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Detroit Water Issues Part II

As a follow up to the post on Detroit's water issues, lets look at the Blue Planet Project's document on the subject.
...heard firsthand accounts from residents who were having their water services cut off by the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department (DWSD). ..
Note that they didn't say why those persons were cut off. The implication is that the DWSD is simply being mean, arbitrary and capricious. That DWSD is just spinning a wheel to see who they can fuck with that day. They have no legitimate No mention that DWSD has cut off service for a reason, non-payment for services rendered. Are there a set of people who simply are unable to afford to pay for their utilities? Certainly and BPP should certainly advocate for those persons. Are there people who are not paying because they are simply irresponsible? Certainly. Those people ought not be let off the hook or conflated with persons who have actual needs.
to have these essential services restored to the thousands of households currently without water service pursuant to a just and affordable rate structure, and to prevent future cut-offs.
Restored to those who have a legitimate need for assistance? Fine. Everybody else? Not so much. And who determines what a “just and affordable” rate structure is? BPP? And what if the “just” rate of service is still beyond the reach of those who have been cut off? Who should shoulder that burden? The state? If it is the state, do we realize that means that they are saying that people in other parts of the state should underwrite the water needs of Detroit? Would you pay your neighbor's water bill? How about the family down the block? How about the ones 10 blocks away? Would you do so for a couple of months in a row? And if you ask the state to [further] underwrite the water use of Detroit citizens does the state get a say in the operations governing water use and in the lives of those using the water? Isn't the saying “he who pays the piper calls the tune”? Would Detroit citizens be OK with members of say Lansing deciding that in return for paying for Detroit's water needs, they want to see “reform” of whatever stripe? Just a few questions to consider. Now the next page of this report, which I will not quote here, describes the various interested parties. None of which mention ANYTHING about the costs of “freely flowing tap water” and exactly who and how the “freely flowing tap water” will be paid for. Certainly they don't think that the rates paid by the consumer is the entire cost of supplying water. It is quite impressive how folks are quite willing to talk about what should be “free” but not about who is going to pay for all that “free”.


The City of Detroit is facing a major water crisis as a result of decades of policies that have put corporate business and profit ahead of the public good and human rights. Social programs and investments in essential infrastructure have been slashed. According to the Detroit News, the City of Detroit’s water department runs a chronic deficit and, like many other public water infrastructure systems, needs more than $5 billion for urgently needed upgrades to the city’s water system.
“Decades of policies that have put corporate business and profit ahead of the public good...Social programs and investments in essential infrastructure have been slashed”

A couple of things here:

1) The Detroit Water and Sanitation Department is a non-profit entity. You can go to my previous post on the subject to find a link to their website where that is stated explicitly as well as detailed explanations of their costs.

2) Decades? As in after the victory of Coleman Young? They may as well have said “since black folks took over Detroit's government.”

3) Why doesn't BPP mention the severe drop in Detroit's population and as a consequence it's tax base when it mentioned "slashes" to "social programs and infrastructure". If you took a 60% pay cut I wonder how that would affect your ability to operate your household.

4) $5 billion just to upgrade the city water system. As of 2012 there were 701,000 people in Detroit. That comes out to $7,132 per resident if Detroit paid it's own way for upgrades. That is a MONTHLY bill of $594 if it were to be paid for in one year. A $59 dollar bill for each resident if it was funded over a 10 year period. And that's just for upgrades. This does not mention the regular maintenance. Somehow the alleged average water bill of $70 doesn't sound so bad at all.

Until recently, every winter, hundreds of aging pipes spewed water from leaks as the water had not been turned off in thousands of abandoned houses and boarded-up businesses. While there have been efforts to address this recently, it continues to be an ongoing problem.
Did someone mention maintenance? I like how BPP says “well there has been an effort, but we're putting these folks on blast anyway.” Did I read that BPP offered their services to DWSD to go to these places, inspect them and turn off water? No? I thought not. I mean who does that kind of work for free? And why volunteer to actually address problems directly when one can create a PDF where you can point fingers?
With globalization and the hollowing out of the once mighty auto industry, wealth and businesses fled to the suburbs in Detroit, draining the city of its tax base and the water department of its rev­enues. There are now 1 million fewer people living in Detroit than there were in the 1950s.
I assure you that the reason there are 1 million less people in Detroit has little to do with “globalization”. There are two reasons. One reason starts with a "B" and the other with the letter "C".
The case of water cut-offs in the City of Detroit speaks to the deep racial divides and intractable economic and social inequality in access to services within the United States. The burden of paying for city services has fallen onto the residents who have stayed within the economically depressed city, most of whom are African-American. my underlines is “unfair” that the people who live in the city pay for the services they use? It is unfair that people who no longer wish to stay in Detroit (for whatever reasons) don't have to pay for water use in Detroit? Should the people who used to live in Detroit be made to pay for services they don't use in Detroit? OK..Would you pay for the water use of the people who moved into the apartment you no longer lived in? Would you pay for the water use of the current residents of a house you used to live in?


What if those residents fell on hard times and couldn't pay? Would you feel it OK if a state agent came to your door and said “Hi. The people currently residing at xxxx Way can no longer afford to pay for their water. Since you used to live there I am here to present you with the bill. You have 30 days to pay. Thank you very much.” You would be red with rage if that happens. But that is exactly what BPP is getting at.

These residents have seen water rates rise by 119 per cent within the last decade.
In the past decade everything has gone up. My electric bill is 5-6x (500-600%) what it was in the 90s. Inflation is a bitch ain't it? And guess what? A part of it is because workers want decent wages, decent benefits. I'm not against workers getting decent wages and benefits. Are you?
With official, understated unemployment rates at a record high and the official, understated poverty rate at about 40 per cent, Detroit water bills are unaffordable to a significant portion of the population.
I sympathise with that. Really. There are two things that have to happen. 1) The state will have to expand assistance to those who cannot work. And I do mean "cannot". 2) Folks will have to pool together and share resources.
The service cut-offs for anyone more than two months behind in payments appear to be the city’s last-ditch attempt to make up for lost revenues. A contract with a private operator seeking prof­its will only lead to greater hikes in service fees and even less affordable, more unjust barriers to equitable access to vital water.
Because the city has no right to demand payment for subsidized services rendered. Ok. While I think the issue of privatization can and should be debated. The argument that water rates will be hiked just to make a profit is problematic. As with any business, if the price of a good or service is too high there are no sales. It is simply not in the interest of any private company to price itself out of business. However, as pointed out by BPP, there is $5 billion in just upgrades that need to be done. Someone is going to pay for that if Detroit is to have a properly functioning water system. None of that work is going to be slave or volunteer labour. None of the companies that make pipes and whatever are going to donate their services or goods. So who gets to pay for that?
People’s overdue water bills are being transferred to their property taxes and people are losing their homes as a result. Given the utility’s lack of interest in cutting costs or generating revenues by collecting on the arrears of business users, fixing leaking pipes, and cutting off services to abandoned homes, the organization sees the crackdown as a ploy to drive poor people of color out of the city to facilitate gentrification – what the Michigan Welfare Rights Organization refers to as a “land-grab.”
Gentrification= “Was mad when white folks left. Now I'm mad they're coming back.”

Lets be clear here. If you own a car and you cannot afford to pay for it, the bank or the dealership comes and takes the property. What you cannot afford to pay for you cannot own. We all know how this works. Why do people think that if they fail to pay their property taxes, mortgages or bills that there will not be (or ought not be) any consequences? If you cannot afford your property taxes or bills for a house, then you cannot afford to live in that house and you should sell it and move, or rent it out to people who can afford it. You do realize you have exactly ZERO rights to permanently live in any location.

Secondly, didn't the BPP mention that the city was making an effort to deal with “leaky pipes”? If so, why ding them here over that? Also if BPP knows of businesses who are not paying their rates, why hasn't the BPP included a list of businesses that are in arrears?

In March 2014, the water and sewer department announced it would begin shutting off water ser­vice for 1,500 to 3,000 customers per week.2

According to a DWSD document obtained by the Sierra Club, there are more than 179,000 residen­tial water accounts in Detroit. By April 30, 2014, more than 83,000 of them were past due. The aver­age amount owed per household was just over $540.3

5 hundred and forty dollars. That number looks familiar. Earlier I pointed out that a per resident, per month bill of $594 (to raise those funds in one year which would never happen) would be required to just deal with upgrades. ….hmmmmm...., Since there are only 179,000 residential water accounts, that $594 rate is actually FAR LOWER than it should be
The Detroit People’s Water Board is hearing directly from people impacted by the water cut-offs who say they were given no warning and had no time to fill buckets, sinks and tubs before losing access to water. In some cases, the cut-offs occurred before the deadline given in notices sent by the city. Sick people have been left without running water and working toilets. People recovering from surgery cannot wash and change bandages. Children cannot bathe and parents cannot cook.
So I understand. Folks knew they didn't pay their water bills for at least 2 months. Then they got a message from the Water Department that they either need to pay up or have their water cut off and folks waited to stock up? OK. Look. I don't know when another Sandy is gonna come through, but I have my heater, solar panels, lamps, batteries, candles and water purification systems ready. If someone sent me a notice that a huge ass storm is coming in 30 days, please know that I will be ready to go. I learned this from my mom. I know folks reading this will be shocked to learn this, but I didn't grow up “rich”. One thing I learned early was that you stock up. Cause you don't know when the money is going to be short and run out. To this day, I stock up.

But even then we have to understand, that bathtub water is only going to last for so long. Pots of water will only last but so long and when the winter comes..... So as a long term strategy prepping for cut off day will not mitigate the base issue. Current living conditions do not allow them to afford water (for whatever reasons). That is going to have to be addressed. You don't get a $540 water bill over two months by being conservative with it's use.

The MWRO was contacted in June by a woman who had been living without water since February. She applied for State Emergency Relief, but was denied because she has no income, having reached the 60-month time limit on her welfare benefits. She was living on loans from friends and her church. According to the organization, there are thousands of other people in similar situations who have exceeded the five-year limit on their welfare benefits. Many have been told that they don’t qualify for disability benefits even though they are disabled.
This example is pretty bad. 5 years on welfare is, well quite long. There was no mention of whether this person was able bodied or not. There was no mention of the education level, age or work history of this individual. Clearly there is a larger issue than water if such a high proportion of the population is hitting a 5 year limit on welfare. Secondly though, why hasn't anyone from the church (or her friends) put her up? I would think that the responsibility to help Detroiters should be first expected from other Detroiters. Has anyone from BPP arranged housing (with water) for the people they advocate for? And I mean personally. Have any of them moved any of these folks into their homes?
With two-thirds of the water cut-offs happening in homes with children, families are concerned and afraid to speak out. They understandably fear, based on experience, that child welfare authorities will remove children from their homes in accordance with state policy that there be working utili­ties in all homes housing children.

According to an article in the Detroit Free Press, there are many low-income families that are strug­gling to keep their utilities on. “The need is huge,” said Mia Cupp, Director of Development and Com­munications for the Wayne Metropolitan Community Action Agency, one organization that is trying to assist families. “There are families that have gone months and months without water.”5

The MWRO says some families have been living without water for over a year and eventually be­come homeless as a result. These people are forced to abandon their homes after they run into problems with cracked pipes in the winter. Once people leave their homes, the houses get broken into, are stripped of valuable materials and become unsafe to return to.

Question: why all these children if one is unable to pay to care for them?

It also seems a number of these folks inherited property that they cannot afford to maintain. If you cannot afford to maintain a house you should sell it. It is not the government of Detroit's fault you are unable to maintain your home. It is YOUR fault you cannot maintain your home. We do realize that it is the property owner's responsibility to deal with water pipes. Detroit's responsibility ends at the sidewalk. Ask me how I know.

There seems to be a level of entitlement here. You may have a right to live somewhere with water but by no means are you entitled to live at a certain location and you certainly do not have the right to live at a certain location while asking other people (via the state) to pay for your upkeep. There are a lot of reports in the media about whole blocks abandoned with only one person on the street. That means entire infrastructure have to be maintained for miles to supply water and sewage to maybe 4 houses. This is entirely inefficient. So either you need a population surge in Detroit OR folks are going to have to move so that Detroit does not have to maintain water systems to abandoned parts of the city. I don't see any mention of this in the BPP report.

The MWRO was recently contacted by a woman who moved in to care for her ailing father, who had received a shut-off notice from the DWSD. She offered to make the full payment, but was told the DWSD would not accept the payment because the bill was in her father’s name and she did not have papers to show she was his representative. Her picture I.D. has the same address as his, but the DWSD would not accept payment.
My suggestion:

They don't know WHO is paying. They don't even care what credit card or bank account it comes from.

“Yes, my water has been off since Friday, May 16, and I have paid my full bill in full ($320) on Mon­day, [May] 19, and still do not have water due to the extreme hurdle one has to comply with to get it turned back on, [including producing a] deed to the property, lease agreement-notarized, mortgage documents, tax records, driver’s licence, social security cards, notarized statements from the own­ers of the property, background checks, etc. My father’s house is in probate court and I cannot have the water turned on!”
Extreme hurdle. Look, it's called “fraud protection”. What if someone added water service to your property while you were away that cause you to get a bill that you did not intend? All that is to make sure that fraud does not happen. I can guarantee if he had shut the water off and then got a bill because some squaters decided to turn on the water that he'd be asking “how did you let so and so just up and turn on the water?”
In another instance, a woman was sent a shut-off notice, and then the contractor (the water department has private contractors doing the shut-offs) showed up two days prior to the date indicated on the notice. She reported that the contractor refused to give her or her pregnant neighbor time to fill any containers before they shut off the water.
Did I mention having children you cannot afford to care for? Yes I did.

The MWRO has heard from people who are being charged as much as $500 per month for water. One member estimated the average water bill for a family of four is $150 to $200 per month. The MWRO says, “for thousands of people in this city – and in the surrounding suburbs as well – this represents as much as 20 per cent of their monthly income.” These bills include two charges: one for water service and another charge for sewerage service. The sewerage charges are about twice the water charges.
Let me direct the reader to a chart of average urban water pricing: You see Detroit? Down there at $40.55 a month for a family of 4 using 150 gallons per person per day. If your bill of $500 which is over 10x the average, it would be prudent to ask what this person is doing to get such a high water bill. Even if the sewage part of the bill is 2x the water bill, it would mean that on average the bill would be $120 so a $500 water bill is still nearly 4x above average and indicates that this person is using far more water than the average family. First thing that should be asked about that family is: do you have leaky faucets in your house? Do your toilets constantly run after being flushed? Do you wash clothes at home and if so how often? How many showers are being taken by all parties and for how long? When washing in the sink do you leave your faucet running? You would be surprised at the amount of water (and electricity) is wasted in daily use.

Now the next portion of the report is interesting:

A Sierra Club representative attended one of the department’s finance committees and learned that 57 per cent of “city commercial” users had not paid their water bills (10,042 out of 18,057) with an average bill totaling $1,976.98. Fifty-five per cent of “city in­dustrial” users were delinquent (869 out of 1,588) with an average bill totaling $10,817.96. In total, there are 10, 911 delinquent commercial and industrial users owing the city $29,253,599.93.
Certainly this is a problem. Of course I don't see why ANYONE should be off the hook when they owe for services rendered. However there is a wrinkle in this: Who are these businesses? There is no listings so we don't know who they are. Secondly there is not a statement as to whether these are "only" late payers who have not crossed the time threshold for cut offs or if they are in a comparable situation, time wise, as those who are receiving cut off notices.

Secondly, lets assume for a minute that the Water department shuts off the water to those commercial enterprises, thereby causing those enterprises to close down for the amount of time it takes to get the water service restored. How does that affect the income of the employees of those businesses? Again, this is not an argument that the businesses should be off the hook, just another angle. Certainly the city of Detroit could (and should) tack on their delinquent accounts to their taxes due and collect every April 15th. We know the IRS can and will reach into bank accounts to get their money.

So there is no "either or" situation. The $29 million owed by commercial and industrial entities is a drop in the bucket of the $5 billion that is needed by the city. Even if you account for the $29 million you still have a need for $4,971,000,000 in needed funds. Good luck with that. So lets go to the recommendations put forth by this group.

Recommendations: 1. We call on the State of Michigan and the U.S. government to respect the human right to water and sanitation.
2. We call on the city to restore services to households that have been cut off immediately.
3. We call on the city to abandon its plan for further cut-offs.
4. We call on the federal and state governments to work with the city to ensure a sustainable public financing plan and rate structure that would prevent a transfer of the utility’s financial burden onto residents who are currently paying exorbitant rates for their water services.
5. We call for fair water rates for the residents of Detroit.
6. We call on the City of Detroit to implement the original water affordability program immediately.
lets go over these: 1) As if they don't.

2) Translation, even if I don't pay for it, I should receive services thereby shifting the cost burden onto someone or anyone else.

3) Translation: because even if don't pay for it, I should receive services thereby shifting the cost burden onto someone or anyone else.

4) You are the someone else. The State= tax payers of the rest of Michigan. Federal= The tax payers of the rest of the country. Public financing is what already happens as the Detroit Water Department is funded in part by loans from the state (

5) Well what's fair? Nothing in the report actually addresses the cost of supplying water to the residents. How can you have a call for “fair” pricing when there isn't even a discussion of what it actually costs to deliver water, what it costs to maintain the system and how that cost is maintained.

6) This program ( states in part:

   The Detroit Water and Sewerage Department (DWSD) will provide annual funding for a water affordability program for income-eligible Detroit residents, funded solely by customers in Detroit.  The initial annual funding level will be $5.0 million for Fiscal Year 2006-07, which begins July 1, 2006.
If 40+ percent of Detroit residents can't afford their water bill how do they plan on getting them to chip in for the 5 million? The 5 million represents 6% of the Detroit metro's revenues to DWSD. I do not see how $5 million/year would get 40% of the customers who are allegedly not able to pay to continue with service. They have this covered though:
While future additional funding levels cannot be specified at this time, DWSD will establish a minimum annual funding level of $5 million.
Translation: We'll be back for more.
2.    In addition to the funding level identified above, DWSD will implement during FY 2006-07 a voluntary checkoff contribution on water bills for all retail City of Detroit customer classes to help fund the water affordability program.  The checkoff program will provide for the following initial checkoff amounts: a.      DWSD proposed a $0.50 per month checkoff for residential customers; The MWRO prefers a $1 per month checkoff; b.      A $3 per month checkoff for commercial and all other non-residential, non-industrial customers; c.      A $20 per month checkoff for industrial customers; d.      The checkoff amounts will be reviewed on an annual basis to determine whether the amounts for one or more customer types should be adjusted.
This is a clear “you pay for my life” technique which is the entire point of the campaign. It is interesting to note a link off the Michigan Welfare Rights Organization's page to a Metro Times online has the following:
Perhaps inevitably, tension began to arise; the initial concern, however, was not suburban control of the water system but rather Detroit officials balking at the idea of subsidizing growth that would eventually drain away residents and erode Detroit’s tax base
Oh wait. Detroit didn't want to subsidize other people? Shocking. SHOCKING.
For the previous three summers drought had virtually dried up spigots in western Wayne County. Some areas had banned new housing, and industry would not locate in the area due to the shortages. Trucks were delivering water to residents. Lenhardt hung tough. He told them to build their own systems. Detroit, he said, was not going to sell them water that would facilitate the suburban exodus.
Well I suppose back in the 50's the idea of “water as a right” didn't quite exist.
Summarizing the prevailing view at the time, the Detroit Times editorialized that “the reason for unification of the water supply in Detroit’s department is because the Detroit system has the economic base — its present facilities and paying customers — to finance expansion. No other apparent combination of communities has such resources.”
Detroit had the economic base, present facilities and paying customers. Now it doesn't have the economic base. The present facilities probably need upgrading and the paying customers are mostly in the suburbs ($240 million vs $74 million).
Moreover, the rates Detroit does charge are a relative bargain. According to Black and Veatch, of the 20 largest U.S. cities, Detroit’s rates are the fifth lowest.
Wait? So are the prices “fair” or not? IN the end what really happened in Detroit is this: Black folks took over the political reigns (in FULL violation of the sequential equation) but were unable to support such a large city economically. Once "whitey" was put out the tax base time bomb blew up. Middle class black folks who did not want to deal with the high crime in Detroit ALSO ran out of the city, further fueling the atomic bomb that dropped on that city. The black folks that remained were, like their counterparts across the US, heavily dependent upon government jobs for their livelihood. But as Detroit shrunk in population it's actual need for a lot of these civil servants dropped. More middle class decimation. Take away the manual labour provided by the auto industry and you had a perfect storm.

Detroit is going to be gentrified. It will be gentrified because in America the tax payer is "king". No revenue means no services. So people who generate revenue are sought after. Guess what group in Detroit has shown that they are not net revenue generators?

I don't get joy from having to point these things out. It's actually quite tiring. This is the same thing Garvey warned us about in the 1920s. You gotta build it if you want to run it and benefit from it. However the more we stay in denial about the real deal issues in Detroit, Camden, Chicago, etc. the more we're going to see these things play out. Whether it be destruction of cities or high levels of homicide and other assault related events that happen way out of proportion in black communities.