Detroit Must Restore All Water Shutoffs Indefinitely and Reform Financial Aid Policy for Neediest Residents, Civil Rights Groups Urge
DETROIT – The city of Detroit’s fifteen-day moratorium on water shut-offs, announced yesterday nearly four months after the shut-offs began, is welcomed but inadequate relief for a city in which thousands of residents either have lost or face the continuing threat of losing access to water.
The ACLU of Michigan and the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, who last week wrote a letter outlining the multiple ways in which the water shut-off violates both civil and human rights, urge the city to indefinitely restore full access to water for those customers already affected by shut-offs and reform its financial aid program for the city's neediest residents so that no one goes without water because of an inability to pay.
The groups call upon the Detroit Water and Sewage Department (DWSD) to articulate a fair and workable definition of affordabililty and a plan for notifying all of its customers about the opportunity for financial assistance.
Any process must, at a minimum, give sufficient notice and opportunity to those facing the threat of shut-off to be heard and to retain water service through a workable, affordability-based financial plan.
ACLU of Michigan's executive director Kary Moss told Judge Rhodes yesterday morning that "the water department's plan as it outlined did not address the adequacy of the assistance plans. While more communication is important, there must also be a revised definition of affordability at a minimum."
"This is an important first step in addressing this crisis. However, this solution does not address those residents whose water has already been tuned off. Nor is it a permanent resolution to this problem. DWSD must immediately restore water to all its customers indefinitely. In addition, they should create a reasonable timetable for a hearing and appeals process, pending resolution of these issues," said Sherrilyn Ifill, President of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc.
In a statement DWSD has also said advocacy organizations have failed to make them aware of individual cases in which a customer's complaint has not been addressed. It's DWSD's responsibility -- not that of advocacy organizations -- to communicate with customers and it's incredibly improper of them to shift that responsibility to others.
DWSD must immediately take meaningful steps to start fixing the humanitarian crisis it caused by shutting-off Detroit residents' water, an essential human right.
The poorly implemented and uneven DWSD shut-off policy violates the civil and human rights, as well as the due process rights of residents because it often fails to provide them with adequate notice and a hearing that takes into account whether they actually have the ability to pay.
Key News & Documents
Read the letter to Detroit officials urging an immediate moratorium on water shut-offs
Read the Office of the Auditor General’s 2010 memo regarding the assistance program
Read about the history of water rights over at Michigan Democracy Watch