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I don't want to see anyone without access to clean safe water -- ever.

I would be delighted to support a plan that made water service no different than roads or police service. In other words, let's get rid of the meters and pay for our water treatment and delivery, as well as sewerage, through taxes. It would mean a tax hike, but it would be so much more efficient than what we do now.

Water is indeed a human right. But it isn't free, and no matter how we choose to pay for treating, delivering clean water, and removing waste water, it has to be paid for.

Here's an aspect of the situation in Detroit that people outside our area may not be familiar with: Nearly all the water in metropolitan Detroit is supplied by the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department. The suburbs don't have their own water systems. Everybody buys their water from the city of Detroit.

I don't know if that's common in other metropolitan areas. But I do know it's been a thorn in the side of suburban governments for most of my life. Water rates go up, and the city councils just have to tell their residents that they can't do anything about it -- it's all Detroit's fault.

So, suburbanites look at stories that tell us that thousands of Detroit residents haven't paid their water bill for ages and owe huge debts to the water department and think: "That's why my water bill is so high!"

That's not the whole truth, but it is a component of the truth. Another aspect of the situation is that the cost of water in southeastern Michigan is heavily influenced by the age and size of the system. The network of water mains throughout this area is ancient and crumbling. There are cities in this area that limit lawn watering, not because water is scarce, but because turning up the pressure to allow people to water as much as they please causes mains to blow. (Please don't take that as an endorsement on my part of unlimited lawn watering -- I NEVER water my lawn, because I consider it a waste of a precious resource.)

The Detroit water system needs repairs on a massive level, and there simply isn't enough money available to do it.

There have been attempts over the past 20 years to have a regional authority take over the Detroit water system. The suburban communities all think they could run the system better and lower costs.

There has unquestionably been mismanagement in the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department. But that's not the bottom line of this story. Anyone who ends up in charge of the Detroit water system is going to face insurmountable costs in maintaining and bringing the system back to full function.

One way to pay for it is X-cents per gallon of water used. Another way would be "we need this much money, everybody pay up."

Either way, all of us in this region are going to have to pay if we expect continued access to clean water.

But as for the cutoff notices in Detroit, we have another problem. Individuals owe more than they can pay. How did this happen?

Many water systems do not ever cut off accounts for non-payment, as long as someone is living at the residence. As a landlord, I've had catastrophic experience with this policy.

I own five rental houses in this inner-ring Detroit suburb. Up until two years ago, my city was one of those that never cut off water to people who didn't pay their bills. The delinquent bills were simply added to property taxes. Two and a half years ago, I was suddenly made acutely aware that most of my tenants were not paying their water bills. I found myself on the hook for literally thousands of dollars of other people's bills.

I had to pay those bills or lose my properties to tax foreclosure. I ended up having to evict several tenants, and I changed my policy on water accounts to make sure going forward that every water bill got paid every month.

But that's really neither here nor there. It only points to one of the causes of the Detroit water crisis: If there's no accountability, people tend to not pay their water bills. Can you blame them? They have X-dollars this month. If the electricity isn't paid, they get a shutoff notice. If the water isn't paid, nothing happens. Which one do you think they'll pay? This isn't about "Detroiters" (often suburban right-winger code for "blacks"). Plenty of suburbanites have done the same thing. The difference is, the Detroit system allowed people to get behind on a massive scale. People have unpayable water bills because nobody demanded that they pay until the amounts got too big to pay.

This same crisis played out in Highland Park (one of two autonomous cities within the city limits of Detroit) a few years ago. It was precipitated when Highland Park was taken over by a financial manager in December 2000. (You can't blame this one on Rick Snyder -- John Engler, another Republican, was governor at the time.) One of the things the financial manager tried to do to bring the city finances back into balance was collecting delinquent water bills. Many people owed thousands of dollars. There were people in danger of losing homes that had been in families for generations because of delinquent water bills.

It's easy to say, "People should pay their water bills." And under the current system, they should. But sudden enforcement creates a crisis where there isn't necessarily one to begin with.

Part of the problem is people don't pay their bills. The other part of the problem is lax enforcement allows the arrears to become unmanageable.

As we stand in the place we are at right now, payment plans should be offered to everyone. People who don't have enough income to deal with a payment plan should be offered assistance. And going forward, the water department needs a policy that will not allow delinquency to balloon. (When someone doesn't pay, they should be evaluated for assistance right away. If people aren't paying, but could afford to -- cut them off.)

At the beginning of this piece, I proposed taking away the meters and providing water through public funding. I realize that isn't a 100% workable solution. It wouldn't be fair for a 75-year-old widow living alone to pay the same share of the cost of the water system as a corporate CEO with an in-ground Olympic-sized swimming pool and three acres of lawn with automatic sprinklers. But it also isn't fair for water to be shut off to people living in a 21-st century urban civilization just because they are poor.

There's got to be a better way.

Originally posted to elsaf on Mon Jul 21, 2014 at 10:40 AM PDT.

Also republished by Community Spotlight.

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Comment Preferences

  •  There could be a minimum level of service (12+ / 0-)
    It wouldn't be fair for a 75-year-old widow living alone to pay the same share of the cost of the water system as a corporate CEO with an in-ground Olympic-sized swimming pool and three acres of lawn with automatic sprinklers. But it also isn't fair for water to be shut off to people living in a 21-st century urban civilization just because they are poor.
    A basic service for drinking water and sanitation based on a standard formula for homes and small businesses could be part of standard municipal taxes.

    Any business or homeowner would pay according to volume consumed in excess of the basic formula. Those who use more would pay more.

    Imagine all the people, living life in peace. You may say I'm a dreamer, but I'm not the only one. John Lennon

    by GwenM on Mon Jul 21, 2014 at 11:48:08 AM PDT

  •  Perhaps "adjust" the water metering to (17+ / 0-)

    be similar to a progressive tax?

    Basically, everyone gets the first X gallons (or cubic-meter, or whatever unit of measurement) for "free", and then charge as is afterward (perhaps slightly higher).

    This might work for several reason.
    1. Poor people are likely to not use enough water to go beyond the "free" portion (they don't need to water lawns, or have swimming pools).
    2. Promotes water conservation (in short, your per-unit cost of water increases as you use more and more water).

    •  You'd absolutely need to do something like this, (10+ / 0-)

      and you are about the only person I've seen suggest this.  So many are blathering on simply about water being a "right" and that it needs to be "free", and totally ignoring (1) how "free" water would be paid for, (2) how free water would affect usage, and (3) the fact that in many areas water is very scarce.  The environmental aspects of meter-free water would be enormous, and its amazing that the normally environmentally aware crowd here ignores that.

      Tiered water rates are the norm in CA; why not everywhere? Its just a question of how to structure the tiers.  Perhaps either a $0 tier for a very modest initial amount or a very minimal charge for a somewhat larger amount? It would be interesting to see a real proposal for this that would address the needs of the poor, encourage conservation, and meet the financing needs of the water agencies.  Seems difficult but very doable.

    •  Perhaps "adjust" the water metering to (0+ / 0-)

      That is exactly what they do in my city in Illinois (population about 175,000). It works and it does make a user very much aware of how much water they are using. It's an excellent idea..Thanks for mentioning it!

  •  Sounds like there are two issues (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    elsaf, hmi, ManhattanMan

    One is the acute problem of day to day production and operation of providing water and sewage treatment. I don't think a tax system will work for this.  You mention the rich and their swimming pools, but it is even more mundane than that.  Why should someone who lives alone pay for the water used by a family with several children?  All of the additional cooking, cleaning, bathing, washing, etc add up to a lot of water and a much bigger bill.  Despite claims about human rights and so forth, this is a service that has costs associated with it and if you want the service you need to pay.  If you think you can't afford to pay, well, like everyone else you need to  make choices about your financial priorities.  If you don't pay your bills, you will not have services.  This is a simple fact of life.

    The second is the chronic issue is fixing the water system infrastructure.  This problem may be addressable via a taxation system and is one that affects the community as a whole.  Theoretically, these costs should have been built into the rates, but even if they were anything from mismanagement to corruption could be the cause of the current problems.

    I also agree with you that a better approach than simply shutting off the water is needed.  You're correct in that it should never have been allowed to get to this point.  I think the only real option is going to involve setting up payment plans, because the bills do need to be paid.  Failure to stick to the plan, though, could very well be grounds for a shutoff.

    "It's not surveillance, it's data collection to keep you safe"

    by blackhand on Mon Jul 21, 2014 at 12:26:53 PM PDT

    •  I'm not sure volume is the most important metric (6+ / 0-)

      When we pay water bills, what we're paying for is the delivery, not the commodity. The water system sucks our water out of the Great Lakes and doesn't have to pay anyone for the privilege to do it.

      There is a cost to having water, but it comes from the cost of installing and maintaining pipes and treatment plants, not the cost of water itself, which is free.

      Of course, completely removing the volume of usage from the equation would be a bad idea, because there is only so much fresh water on the planet and we need to use it carefully. If I was charged $50 a month if I only use it for cooking, toilet flushing and an occasional sponge bath, or if I'm watering a golf course, I might be tempted to use a lot more than if I'm charged per gallon.

      I think the idea in a previous comment of having a progressive scale (cheap if you use a little bit, getting more expensive as you use more) might be a good way to go at it.

      Detroit water rates are high and rising partially because so much maintenance is needed on the system. That's something everybody is going to have to pay for in the long run.

      Wealth doesn't trickle down -- it rises up.

      by elsaf on Mon Jul 21, 2014 at 12:48:16 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  That might be true in Detroit, but what about (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        elsaf, hatrabbit, Wary Idealist

        where water is scarce such as here in CA? We HAVE to charge on volume here or the taps will run dry. And shouldn't we be encouraging conservation even where water is plentiful?

      •  The Great Lakes Region (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        elsaf, dconrad

        Is certainly blessed with the worlds largest supply of fresh water.  Still, there are variable costs in addition to physical delivery associated with the water use that change with volume.  The water needs to be treated which will use chemicals, electricity, mechanical wear and tear on parts, supplies, pumps, etc.  Having a ready supply of fresh water should greatly lower the overall costs of producing the clean product but wouldn't make it free anymore than having to use ground wells would.

        "It's not surveillance, it's data collection to keep you safe"

        by blackhand on Mon Jul 21, 2014 at 01:31:17 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

      •  A lot of what you're paying these days (5+ / 0-)

        (at least in Toledo, where I live) is construction costs associated with rebuilding our whole sewer system to separate the sewage from the storm water.  We'll be spending $521 million to do that in a project that started back in 2002 - but it will result in a 80% reduction in sewer overflows into the Maumee River and Lake Erie by 2020.

        There are similar projects going on in many other cities all over the US.

    •  actually 3 issues (bigger perspective) (10+ / 0-)

      Taking nothing away from the conservation & access/poverty issues discussed in the diary and comments, there's still one other issue to keep in mind:

      Everybody ought to be able to afford basic water service. Why is there so much poverty in Detroit that nonpayment has become prevalent enough to threaten the water system?

      The well-known problems of Detroit are simply national problems that, because of Detroit's unique history, are especially concentrated--and so especially visible--there. But the problems of unemployment and sprawl and poverty afflict tens of millions of people all over America. (F'rinstance, see this great article about my home county in the Atlanta suburbs.)

      Because these are national problems, they demand national solutions. Their persistence is a national failure, not a Detroit failure.  

      Unemployment, and its secondary effects, are a federal failure because the feds control the currency. Cities and states don't. We need to print a shitload of dollars and hire people, like in the New Deal. Or send it to states and cities, like in the 2009 stimulus, but on a bigger scale. Only the feds can do that.

      Such a program, though applied nationally, would help Detroit more than anywhere else.

      "The true strength of our nation comes not from the might of our arms or the scale of our wealth, but from the enduring power of our ideals." - Barack Obama

      by HeyMikey on Mon Jul 21, 2014 at 02:01:43 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  The Detroit water Department money is being (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      DoReMI, dconrad, coffejoe

      used to pay the banks in the bankruptcy.
      http://www.workers.org/...
      This objectionable farce is playing the hand of privatization of The Great Lakes. Selling off our greatest fresh water resource to the highest bidder.  One tough nerd, the Unelected EM (who we voted out) but the red legislature brought back in by force are running this state like a  Monopoly game.  Buying up all the resources and selling them off to private hands as fast as they can.  The grand experiment is no longer a experiment, it's a reality.  But now it's affecting lives.  And those in the suburbs are going to pay, as I told them when it started.  They laughed when I said it.  I doubt now they are laughing anymore.        

      Change is a process, not an event. ~ Joellen Killion

      by sabathiel on Tue Jul 22, 2014 at 05:12:49 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  By the by, (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    ShoshannaD, elsaf

    local news is reporting that City Hall has ordered a halt to the stoppages.

  •  Great Diary, Thanks for Posting (6+ / 0-)

    Given you're a rental property owner, why is it that the cost of water in Detroit is twice as high as the national average?

    "We are beyond law, which is not unusual for an empire; unfortunately, we are also beyond common sense." Gore Vidal

    by Superpole on Mon Jul 21, 2014 at 03:28:35 PM PDT

  •  let's get rid of the meters? (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    elsaf, nuclear winter solstice

    No let's not get rid of the meters. There are still some places in California without water meters, and usage of water is higher when there are no meters.

    I'm totally for people with limited incomes getting their first X gallons every month for free, with X being the minimum a thrifty person would need for basics such as drinking, toilets, showers, and washing needs.

  •  Great diary (5+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    elsaf, LillithMc, DuzT, dconrad, coffejoe

    My fear is that this ends in privatization... http://www.foodandwaterwatch.org/...  Michigan already allows exorbitant amounts of ground water to be pumped, bottled and sold by Nestle, we can't afford for the great lakes water shed to be privatized.

  •  What the Detroit water crisis is all about (5+ / 0-)

    It's forced gentrification. The ruling class, having replaced the usual city government with a "city manager," is now trying to make life unpleasant enough for the poor (or completely impossible for them) so that they will all leave. Then the ruling class can sell off all the property to their friends for a song. Those people will then tear everything down, and rebuild it anew, all sparkling clean and full of McMansions, with no poor people around to create an eyesore. That is the ruling class's new model for the future: Get rid of everyone who is not rich.

    "Americans have a strong devotion to afflicting the afflicted and comforting the comfortable. They have a hard time contemplating any meaningful overhaul of the rules of their political system" -- Alec Baldwin

    by Sagebrush Bob on Mon Jul 21, 2014 at 07:41:12 PM PDT

  •  Detroit (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    KJG52, elsaf, dconrad

    Every article about Detroit is full of the animosity between suburbs and city.  We also have to rebuild our water system in Sacramento.  So grateful we are not run by the neo-cons like Snyder grabbing everything of value for himself and his "managers".  Or the Kochs who seem to have plans for the city along with their friends.  Detroit deserves better.  Michigan was happy to take the taxes from the residents, but want to return nothing including earned pensions.  It is a war that should not be happening as the United Nations has said.  Let them strip it down and you will see that model all over the US where other cities are also technically bankrupt thanks to the criminals running this country into the ground for their own pocketbooks.  Someone needs to take a magnifying glass to Snyder and friends while at the same time making the city livable.  There are assets in Michigan that need to be looked at too.  I notice you are a landlord and not a resident.  Have some compassion.

    •  I'm a landlord AND a resident (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      DuzT, dconrad

      I do have compassion. This is my town. If Detroit comes back, my suburb (actually hit harder than Detroit in the real estate crash) will come back as well.

      There has been animosity between the city and the suburbs since the 1950s. It's not going to go away overnight.

      That doesn't mean I'm a carrier for that animosity.

      Wealth doesn't trickle down -- it rises up.

      by elsaf on Tue Jul 22, 2014 at 04:44:47 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Best wishes to you (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        elsaf

        Sadly I think Detroit is just one area that is a target for how far the 1% can go in extracting and taking control of basics like water.  Racism is only a wedge they use, but even the suburbs will be extracted if they have the power they are using with their "emergency managers" and packed courts.  You are living and investing on the front lines that are a very dangerous place.  Best wishes.   We have a city near us also in bankruptcy, Stockton.  After the massive influx of cash both to over-build homes and then to recklessly or even criminally lend mortgages that failed, the city had to file for bankruptcy.  So far I think the pension money is still intact.  They are on the edge of the massive drought that is destroying CA agriculture this year, so they are also on the front lines of economic disaster.  Also there is massive water theft planned using large tunnels to steal water from our Delta for Southern CA fat cats sadly supported by our environmental Governor Brown.
        The joke is that the water they planned steal may no longer be available due to drought.

      •  What Detroit needs is urban and regional planners (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        elsaf, Yoshimi

        not managers running the city. There are costs Detroit has to deal with that selling off all its assets doesn't help.

        Urban renewal projects are something every city goes through. They create good paying construction jobs and can really turn a depressing scenario around.

        1. Get rid of the Republican obstruction and "managers"
        2. Quit selling off assets at bargain basement prices to cronies
        3. Begin attracting investors in what will very shortly be a housing boom driven by a population which is increasing at an increasing rate if for no other reason immigration.

        Maybe Detroit should count itself lucky because compared to what more than 100 East and Gulf coast cities with populations over 100,000 are about to have to deal with in the form of climate change and rising sea levels, it has a future.

        Compare Windsor, lower right to Detroit in the middle and the wealthy suburbs in the north west. There simply isn't a lot of green in Detroit. It needs a greenbelt. Many of its deserted houses could become parkland designed to connect and buffer neighborhoods with a few that have significant architecture saved as historic landmarks.

        When my ancestors first arrived in Detroit around 1832 it had been growing for 131 years and still wasn't much more than a fort in the wilderness.

        During the period between 1832 and 1865 Detroit was a major terminus of the underground railroad and many black people settled in the center of the city.

        When World War II came along Detroit boomed with defense contracts for everything from ships to tanks but there were strikes at the Packard plant over black workers being integrated into the white workers assembly lines.

        Somehow all the money and good jobs went to the whiter suburbs northwest of the city while the core remained black and poor.

        I wasn't there so I don't know what caused the racial tension in the first place or the flight to the suburbs, but its clearly been an issue all my life. I think the way you solve it is to begin putting things suburban populations want in the city; maybe it means gentrification but here's what Boston did that seemed to work.

        First they helped define neighborhoods with an emerald necklace of parks. they gave neighborhoods tight commercial shopping districts where everything takes place in walking distance from everything else an the whole city doesn't revolve around parking.

        There is a good subway system with a blue line to Logan airport, Winthrop and East Boston to the north a red line out through Cambridge and Lechmere to the rich western suburbs outside rte 128, a green line across the city connecting downtown shopping and sports with schools and libraries as well as Bostons government center and commuter trains at North and South stations

        Finally there is the new silver line which consists of a number of buses running in tunnels connecting south Boston with the city.

        Everything is about connecting the city and putting the most important resources closest to the center while removing barriers.

        Despite being a seaport with access to the Great Lakes up the St Croix river, what made Detroit become Motor City was Eisenhower's National Defense Highway System in the fifties.

        As I understand it Detroit once boomed because it brought together all the necessary raw materials, steel, coal, labor to build cars. It failed as a city because at some point it ceased to be a place where people wanted to live and work, became instead a place with crime and drugs and poverty.

        The water has to come from pumping stations where it gets treated and purified using both chemicals and sedimentation. Its not so much the physical plant that gets old, steel and concrete can last a long time, its maintaining the pumps which is a facility cost.

        The money for parks and upgrades to Detroit's infrastructure should come from its wealthy suburbs and from Windsor, which despite being a Detroit suburb is in Canada. Sure they will bitch and lobby that the burden should always be on the poor and the powerless, but that's where the money is so that's where you go to get it.

        "la vida no vale nada un lugar solita" "The Limits of Control Jim Jarmusch

        by rktect on Wed Jul 23, 2014 at 07:58:57 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  Thank you for posting this (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    elsaf, Riff

    I also live in one of the Detroit suburbs, and sat thru Netroots Nation watching all the hazzari about Free water with my mouth open.

    Yes, I do get that many people still living in Detroit are too poor to pay their water bills. And I also understand that it's not like anybody ever asked them to pay their bills before, and this is a shock.

    But, somehow, the people and equipment have to be paid for. And constantly raising the rates paid by the people who ACTUALLY pay their water bills (i.e., those of us in the suburbs) is leading those suburbs to consider splitting off from Detroit and having their own water authorities. Some cities, like Flint, have already done so.
    If they all leave, it will be a total disaster.

    The water department is not a social welfare agency. I absolutely support helping people get current on their bills, and possibly a fund, like the heating fund, where we can make sure those in need get the help they need.

    But destroying a regional water system because Water Should Be Free is so incredibly naive and uninformed, it makes me shiver.
    I'd rather see Detroit keep the water authority; the water is excellent, than have my city decide to join the Macomb authority.

    Think, people

  •  Not the message I heard... (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    elsaf, dconrad, gaspare

    I must have spoken with different Detroit activists at Netroots Nation than you.  I never heard anyone say, "Water should be free."  I heard that the cutoffs were being applied inequitably.  I heard that payment plans, if even offered, were expecting 1/3 payment of the balance due upfront, with no consideration for individual [financial] circumstances.  I heard that people were being cutoff for making the mistake of moving somewhere where the previous tenant had not paid.  I heard that people were being cutoff EVEN WHEN THEY WERE CURRENT, due to human error (hey, it happens), but fixing the problem and getting water turned on was a nightmare. Not once did I hear the claim that water should be free.  The assertion that water is a human right is not the same as claiming that water should be free; it is a call for basic human decency and compassion to work as a community to fix these problems.  

    "Wage love." Charity Hicks

    by DoReMI on Tue Jul 22, 2014 at 08:29:04 AM PDT

  •  Have y'all seen this? (15+ / 0-)

    “Better the occasional faults of a government that lives in a spirit of charity than the consistent omissions of a government frozen in the ice of its own indifference.” -- FDR, 1936

    by SolarMom on Tue Jul 22, 2014 at 10:55:52 AM PDT

  •  Ed Schultz tonight (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    elsaf

    There will be a march on Detroit from Canada this week.  The UN suggested a bill of 3% of income for water.  Many elderly in Detroit on fixed incomes.  Detroit does not have control over its water supply or their billing.  Many mistakes.
    They demanded Snyder get involved.

    •  I watched the piece (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      LillithMc

      A lot of total b*llsh*t got thrown around.

      1. The allegation was made that the people of the city are subsidizing the suburbs. Absolutely not true. The city of Detroit built the system, but the majority of the revenue (two thirds) has always come from the suburbs. With 50% of city residents behind on their water bills, the truth is, the suburbs subsidize the city. They always have.

      2. Governor Snyder should get involved. PLEASE NO! He's done enough damage already. He's the puppet master behind Kevin Orr, the emergency manager.

      3. Canada is sending water to downtown Detroit. OK, it's a nice visual, but it does absolutely nothing to solve the problem. That's not going to make the shower and toilet work at anybody's house.

      4. Detroit doesn't have control of the water system. This is only true to the extent that nothing in Detroit is under Detroit control because of the emergency manager. All attempts to establish a regional water authority have failed.

      5. This is racially motivated. That's a pretty difficult allegation to prove under any circumstance. It's true that part (only part) of the reason we can't get a regional water authority established is because of tension between the city and suburbs, and race plays a role in that. But that's not why the cutoffs are happening. I would argue that the cutoffs are a result of corporatism, not racism. I suspect white residents of Detroit (yes, they're there) are facing the same cutoff threat if they aren't paying their bills. The cutoffs are going out because Kevin Orr runs the show on the "pay or die," principle like a good little CEO.

      6. This is part of a push to privatize the system. Cutoff notices do nothing to make the system more attractive for privatization. It's true that Orr is trying to find a buyer, particularly since the latest attempt at a regional authority failed. But for a number of reasons, so far there have been NO TAKERS. Orr says he's contacted two of the largest private water system administrators to solicit bids, but a NY Times investigation reveals that nobody seems to be interested in buying the system. Why? Because the system is in terrible shape and shrinking. It needs massive repairs and the communities at the edges are dropping out to buy their water elsewhere. The city of Flint and Genesee County have already dropped out. Others will follow. So, owning the Detroit system means a massive investment that will produce shrinking returns. This is not something the corporate world is interested in taking on.

      7. This is "forced gentrification," i.e., like New Orleans where Katrina was used as a lever to remove poor people and replace them with rich people. This is the most ridiculous allegation of all. Detroit is NOT New Orleans. The city has lost almost two thirds of it's population since 1950. (1.8 million in 1950, 700k today) There are acres and acres of empty land inside the city, a lot of it subject to  tax foreclosure. If you want to build an upscale development, you can buy the land today for a song. That isn't happening. Why? I'd have to write a whole dairy and then some to tell you why, but turning off people's water is not going to make it happen.

      The bottom line is: You don't have to chase anybody out of Detroit. The real problem is getting people to move here.

      Wealth doesn't trickle down -- it rises up.

      by elsaf on Wed Jul 23, 2014 at 07:30:47 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  good diary, similarish rental experience (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    DoReMI, elsaf, LillithMc

    I'll start by saying that I think that what is going on in Detroit is horrible.  It seems to lack any fair process and operates in a blunt, bare knuckle approach.  You have a good point about allowing the bills and the problems to get out of control.  This is similar to what happened to me but it was from before I acquired my properties.  I spoke before the Pontiac city council and met several times with water department officials.  I actually scored a win against an emergency financial manager.  I also got a few reforms implemented.  Now United Water runs the show.  The concentration of poverty in Detroit is so high it seems absurd to think that most residents can pay current water rates.  In general, I think a flat rate should be paid on property taxes, then an above and beyond a reasonable metered amount should be charged using the meters.  Then there must be process of warnings for unpaid bills.  Next a waiver process for elderly, disabled residents who show cause to use water above the property tax base amount.  Also, too, I'm suspicious of all the data.  As a landlord, I am well aware of many, many absentee landlords that let things get out of hand or operate way outside the law adding to the crisis.

  •  Bottled Water (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    elsaf, smileycreek

    Another facet to this problem, that I've heard nothing about, is the fact that there are several (at least 10) bottling companies, including Coca-Cola and Aquafina, that pull water from the Detroit municipal system and bottle it for resale.  I'm sure this generates revenue but are they paying the same rates as residential customers?  I'm guessing it's also really taxing on the system.  I'd like to see a report detailing how much they consume, how much they pay and the impact to the system and the Detroit metro residential customers.

  •  Jennifer Granholm was gov. in 2000 (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    elsaf

    Much as it pains me, we can't blame Engler for Highland Park's EM in 2000.

  •  My take is that this crisis (0+ / 0-)

    will only serve to force people to move out of Detroit.  They will abandon their homes, work, schools etc and move to friendlier places.  The developers will then come in and do a makeover of the city and make it unaffordable for these same people to move back in.  Then like magic the water rates will be affordable for the new residents.  Other states governors, and mayors need to call out Detroit's emergency manager and demand that they take care of their citizens because if he doesn't those people are coming to a town or city near you.  Gentrification is not isolated to Detroit it has been done in other areas and the only ones who suffer are the poor and underemployed who don't have the resources to survive after being uprooted.  Shame on Detroit for letting this happen.

    •  That would be totally unnecessary (0+ / 0-)

      There is oodles of vacant land inside the city. Whole neighborhoods that have been bulldozed. You don't need to precipitate a water crisis to open up land. It's already open.

      The problem for people who want to develop new housing in Detroit is not opening up land. It's finding a way to get people to consider moving back to Detroit.

      Water cutoffs don't help that.

      Wealth doesn't trickle down -- it rises up.

      by elsaf on Wed Jul 23, 2014 at 10:56:31 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  Gentrification is a looming issue, but... (0+ / 0-)

      ...the "crisis", which some believe is largely being manufactured by the EM to ensure privatization, won't force people to move out of Detroit.  That's because the folks being hardest hit by the shutoffs don't have the means to move.  If they can't pay their water bills, it's a pretty sure bet that they can't come up with a security deposit for a new rental or even a way to search for someplace out of the city.

      The gentrification issue is rearing its ugly head in the district near Cobo Center where NN14 was held.  There are a LOT of properties currently being rehabbed as upscale lofts and condos.  These will only be affordable to the financially comfortable, and those buyers are likely to be white.  So all the mistakes that have been made over the past 50-60 years (or more) are on the verge of being repeated.  The EM doesn't care; he just wants money in the city, and concepts of community and affordable housing aren't likely to hold a high priority from someone coming out of the corporate sector, with a corporatist mindset.  The activists in Detroit that I have spoken with DO care, but for the most part, they are not being offered a seat at the table...probably because they would not sit quietly while Detroit is being carved into bite-size chunks for the corporate elite.

      "Wage love." Charity Hicks

      by DoReMI on Wed Jul 23, 2014 at 11:51:39 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  I'm a little confused about the "mistakes of the (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        elsaf

        past 50-60 years" that are being repeated.  Detroit's population has fallen from close to 2 million to less than 700,000.  Now in a very limited part of the city (central business district; midtown; maybe corktown) a small number of new residents with some means are moving in.  Who will pay taxes and support the needs of the city.  Isn't the city something like 139 square miles, huge portions of which are empty?  Is it really realistic to say the the city is being carved up into "bite-sized chunks for the corporate elite?"
        The city is currently rolling out a program to sell vacant lots to adjoining homeowners - for a whopping $100.  There is precious little demand for the vast majority of the city.

  •  There is more Detroit could do. (0+ / 0-)

    I looked at the issue of municipal water systems and compared Detroit, a system in financial trouble, with a financial health system in Seattle. (See my article for more details http://j.mp/...)

    Seattle also sells water to the suburbs and a recent USA News article claimed it was one of the most expensive systems in the states. But when you look more closely you find that low income families in Seattle pay LESS for water than do Detroit residents. Water/Sewer charges are discounted 50% for families making less than 70% of the cities median income in Seattle. The other big takeaway is that Seattle charges wholesale and commercial retail water users higher rates than does Detroit. Water is very cheap for big business in Detroit. So a combination of higher rates for industrial and commercial users (which are more on par with residential rates) and higher rates for families that can afford to pay more strikes a better balance.

    Additionally, the Seattle municipal utility is proactive in helping residents save water by offering water saving shower heads and other devices free or at discounted rates. They also actively help low income residents apply for HUD or section 8 assistance for their utility bills. When they do borrow money (sell bonds) to make improvements, they temporarily raise rates to pay off the debt, then lower the rates again when the debt is paid.

    Because there will always be people who fall behind, Seattle also has a generous and flexible policy to help delinquent residents with payment plans. No one has their water shut it they are willing to work with the utility or if thy owe less than about $1,000.

    Detroit has its own unique problems. I get that. But it isn't at all clear that the City and its appointed Emergency Manager have even looked at creative alternatives to shutting of the water supply for thousands of families. It isn't even clear if plans for privatization isn't driving the crisis in Detroit, in my opinion.

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