End Mass Criminalization of Black and Brown Youth

End Racism and Discrimination

Tuesday, 28 October 2014 00:00

Judge Says Poor Have No Right To Clean Water, Allows Detroit Water Shutoffs To Continue

Written by Alan Pyke | ThinkProgress

Saying there is no such thing as a legal right to clean running water, U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Steven Rhodes dismissed a request from Detroit residents to impose a six-month moratorium on water shutoffs by the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department (DWSD) on Monday.

The plaintiffs had argued last week that the DWSD shutoffs over delinquent water bills violated the human rights of impoverished citizens who had no ability to pay what the city says they owe, and who were left without access to clean water by the shutoff policy.

“There is no such right or law,” Rhodes said, according to the Detroit News. He also rejected the idea that citizens have a right to “service based on an ability to pay.”

Those remarks are notable because Rhodes didn’t even have to speak to the substance of the plaintiffs’ arguments. Bankruptcy law doesn’t give him the power to force the city to take the sort of action the plaintiffs requested, so Rhodes could have dismissed the request on simple procedural grounds.

By choosing instead to rebuke the notion that the health and safety implications of being cut off from running water service due to dire financial straits constitutes a violation of Detroiters’ rights, Rhodes positioned himself opposite the United Nations. After activists made a formal request for U.N. intervention in June, a trio of U.N. experts called the DWSD’s aggressive approach to a multi-million-dollar backlog of water bills “a violation of the human right to water and other international rights.”

The U.N. Special Rapporteur on drinking water issues said that “when there is a genuine inability to pay, human rights simply forbids disconnections.” The city of Detroit has raised water rates by triple-digit percentages in recent years despite having one of the poorest customer bases in the country.

DWSD has been shutting off thousands of water pipes every month since the spring, with one brief break in late summer after the policy attracted months of negative press attention. Activists allege that the department has been far more willing to shut off water to individuals than to businesses even though delinquent bills from businesses are much larger on average and make up a disproportionate share of the total revenue DWSD is owed. (A DWSD official disputed that portrayal to ThinkProgress over the summer and promised to provide numbers proving those allegations are false, but never did.)

When the water shutoffs began, the city’s path out of bankruptcy was still rocky and complicated. The thorniest part of the city’s unpayable debts had always been the $5 billion in borrowing tied to the DWSD. When the future of the water department was up in the air, it made a certain brutal kind of sense to get aggressive about clearing up $175 million in unpaid bills in order to make the water department a more attractive asset in various negotiations.

Since then, the city has struck an agreement with neighboring counties to put a regional water authority in place — something that should help to make service more affordable for Detroit residents in the long run while also bringing in much-needed revenue for repairs to the aging pipes and filtration infrastructure. The chief financial officer of the DWSD told the Detroit Free Press that it must keep the pressure up on poor Detroiters in order to fulfill its agreement with the suburban counties and maintain its bond rating.

The total outstanding water bills have been cut in half to less than $90 million since the spring. As the water shutoffs were getting underway in April, Rhodes approved the city’s request to pay that same amount of money to a trio of banks over some legally questionable financial deals tied to casino revenue. Rhodes had previously said the city should sue to cancel those deals rather than buying their way out of the bad debts.

Link to original article from ThinkProgress

Read 6197 times

Latest Economic and Social Justice News

  • 1

Willie Nelson - Keeping the Postal Service Alive

Latest News

  • Repealing the Jim Crow law that keeps 1.5 million Floridians from voting. +

    Repealing the Jim Crow law that keeps 1.5 million Floridians from voting. A seismic political battle that could send shockwaves all the way to the White House was launched last week in Read More
  • Nuclear Weapons: Who Pays, Who Profits? +

    Nuclear Weapons: Who Pays, Who Profits? In an interview with Reuters conducted a month after he took office, Donald Trump asserted that the U.S. had “fallen Read More
  • Sessions issues sweeping new criminal charging policy +

    Sessions issues sweeping new criminal charging policy Attorney General Jeff Sessions overturned the sweeping criminal charging policy of former attorney general Eric H. Holder Jr. and directed Read More
  • Bush’s Iraq Lies, Uncontested, Will Haunt Us Under Trump +

    Bush’s Iraq Lies, Uncontested, Will Haunt Us Under Trump The CODEPINK Tribunal taking place December 1 and 2, and live streamed by The Real News, is a historic collection of testimonies about the lies Read More
  • The System IS Rigged!—The Electoral College and the 2016 Election +

    The System IS Rigged!—The Electoral College and the 2016 Election Donald Trump was right: the system is rigged! But it is rigged for the Republicans, not the Democrats, for conservatives, Read More
  • 1

Economic and Social Justice Calls

  • 5-4-2016 Economic and Social Justice Call
    The team explores the concept, economic theories and realities of achieving Full Employment in the current economy. Guests include Conor Williams, the secretary of the Transitional Jobs Collaborative in Milwaukee and Michael Darner, Executive Director of the Congressional Progressive Caucus.
  • 02-03-2016 Economic & Social Justice
    Listen to this month's call led by Jim Carpenter as we discuss the state of our current economy, the impact of poor economic choices, and the other factors that play into the declining situation around the country, and in the world in this open and guided conversation.
  • 01-06-2016 Economic & Social Justice
    PDAction Board Member Donald Whitehead, and former Ex. Dir. of the Coalition for the Homeless leads the discussion on homelessness, with input from Joel Segal, PDAmerica founding member and National Director of the Justice Action Mobilization Network. Special focus is given to the housing crisis, the role of the banks, programs used by other countries to alleviate the problem, as well as the fact that women are the most adversely affected by this issue. H Con Res 98 - Resolve to Eliminate Homelessness - has been introduced in Congress by Rep. Alma Adams (NC-12) and is endorsed on this call.