Water shut offs are urban removal, prof says
Detroit is among the poorest of U.S. cities. The median household income is less than half the national average with at least 38 percent of residents living below the poverty line. The official unemployment rate is 23 percent, but realistically it is over 50 percent since so many Detroiters have been unemployed so long benefits have disappeared and folk have given up trying for jobs.
According to DWSD figures, 15,000 homes have been shut off. Their own figures indicate that half of those households are still without water, unless “illegally” reconnected. With the city’s average of just under three people per household, that mean that roughly 100,000 Detroiters out of a total population of 700,000 have already been affected by the shut-offs. When the 15-day moratorium ends, tens of thousands more will wake up or come home to find the water off.
One woman described how her sister, who is in a wheel chair, had her water turned off. The woman, who asked not to be identified, went to the payment center to alert water employees that the sister was unable to get out to work or pay the bill, the department employee said that with a doctor’s slip the water would be reconnected, but only for 21 days.
Another woman described how she was at the hospital with a handicapped child when her brother called to say the water was off.
“I had doctor’s instructions on how to clean and change her bandages,” the mother said. “I had no water.”
She had to raise $500 to get the water back on and is unsure how she will deal when next month’s bill comes.
Detroiters have had their water rates hiked 119% in the last ten years. The average household pays $75 a month compared the national average of $40 a month.
“This is a public-health emergency,” says Peter Hammer, a law professor at Wayne State University and director of the school’s Center for Civil Rights.
The water shutoffs are more than Emergency Manger Kevyn Orr getting the balance sheet cleaned up to sell the water plant to private interests. It is part of what Hammer sees as a larger process of moving people out of neighborhoods the city wants to see emptied out—implementation of the Detroit Future City Plan.
“They are also shutting water off not wishing people will pay necessarily, but implicitly hoping people will move,” he says.