Detroit, With 40% Poverty Rate, Now Shutting Off Water To Residents Who Can’t Pay Their Bill


You may remember Detroit, it’s the city that was briefly in the news in 2008 when all the American Auto companies except Ford went tits up and the government had to bail them out. Since then it’s been mentioned on and off, once when the entire city filed for Chapter 9 Bankruptcy in July of last year (and was granted it) and again when this Buzzfeed article about buying a terrible house in Detroit went viral. Aside from those two events, it seems, Detroit has been frozen by the media as sort of “but for the grace of God go we” poster child for a country still emerging from a deep financial recession.

But usually no news is good news, right? Well, no. The city, a shadow of its former self, has also become a national rhetorical battleground between people who live in Detroit or Michigan and care about it and those who think it’s better written off. Nationally, the city’s been cited as an example in the fight between those that want to blame labor (the United Auto Workers) and, well, poor people, for the state of Detroit, and, by proxy, the entirety of the US, and those who just want the home they’re stuck living in to have basic services, basic services like water.

They’re shutting off the water in Detroit.

To be clear, they’re shutting off the water for poor people. Actually, they’ve been shutting off the water for months. There are neighborhoods in Detroit where people are so poor they can’t pay their water bills. They can’t pay their water bills because they don’t have jobs. They don’t have jobs because there aren’t any jobs they can get, the economy in Detroit is terrible if you’re blue collar, and they can’t leave Detroit to go get a job somewhere else because they don’t have any money. Why don’t they get jobs? There aren’t any. Detroit’s poverty level stands at 40%.

This is a familiar problem if you’re from an area of the country that is failing. The first thing that happens in such communities is that those who can leave, leave. They go to some other city and get jobs. That, in turn, depletes the community’s tax base further which increases the strain on the public budget and serves to generally drive out more businesses as there’s less and less trade being conducted. Finally, you have two things, shitty infrastructure and poor people who can’t leave.

That’s what you have in these soon-to-be deserts in Detroit. Here’s an anecdote from Democracy Now. It’s an interview so don’t pay too much attention to the source. They aren’t making up the quote, after all.

I want to tell you why six kids on this porch when they came to shut off the water, and their parents had to run to try to find how they’re going to pay their water bill. Another woman, she’s pregnant. She has a two-year-old. She’s holding a bill for $400 in her hand, and she’s begging the man, “Don’t turn off my water.” A pregnant woman with a $400 bill. You’re going to close the water off for a woman with a $400 bill who’s pregnant and a two-year-old. Shame on you!

Pregnant and the water is shut off. This would not happen in my city. It would not be allowed to happen. However, in Detroit, the demands of Chapter 9 Bankruptcy require that the city pay its creditors back. They haven’t been able to wipe the slate clean. Instead, in order to satisfy the demands of their debtors, they’re forced to squeeze the city and that includes raising residential water costs by 119% over the last 10 years. That’s a massive increase. There is no other commodity that I can think of that’s increased quite that much except, perhaps, for the price of gold.

The natural thing to do when faced with such drastic measures is to protest, and residents have protested. Here’s a protest from July 18th. Remember that date. The city had increased water prices by 8.7% just the day previous.

They may as well not have showed up for all the good it did. They’d have been better of staying on the couch to preserve water because on September 29th, U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Steven Rhodes got all Constitutional law on their asses.

U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Steven Rhodes’ ruling from the bench found no constitutional right to water service and agreed with city assertions that a moratorium would encourage more people not to pay their bills, leading to potentially large drops in revenue at a crucial time for the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department, which serves 4 million people in southeast Michigan.


But more fundamentally, Rhodes ruled, “Chapter 9 strictly limits the courts’ power in a bankruptcy case.”

No Constitutional right to water? It’s interesting that that’s what it’s come down to, not public health concerns, not issues of basic decency or civic stewardship. No, it’s come down to “does the Constitution say I have to make water available to you.” In order to meet their Chapter 9 Bankruptcy requirements, the city has to literally shut down water service to thousands of Detroit homes and, just so you know, Detroit’s poor aren’t asking for free water. They’re asking for water that isn’t so overpriced that they can’t pay for it. They’re asking for a price that doesn’t more than double over a decade.

In essence, they’re asking for what I have where I live, for what pretty much every American connected to a city or town already has, affordable water. This is the kind of thing that Americans in the 1700s would have started wars over. I mean, if excessive taxation on trade kicked off the revolution then can you imagine if the excessive taxation had been on water? Blood would have flowed.

So that’s just where Detroit is at. The banks own the city and run it. They determine who gets to drink water and who doesn’t. They determine what neighborhoods live and which die, and they decide who and what is valuable and can be saved. The method of repayment shall be that some shall drink and some shall not. Thirsty babies may cry and the elderly may pass into the next world but the bank will have its money.

And, the Red Wings will have their stadium. Two days after protesters met on July 18th to ask for a six month stay on the water shut offs, the city fathers of Detroit announced a new arena combined with an entire new area full of hotels, downtown housing, and shopping. Where’s the money coming from? Well, 60% of the 450 million dollar bill is coming from, you guessed it, the city itself which includes all those poor people who can’t pay their insane water bills and will never afford to take one step inside this new stadium.

No wonder water rates are so high. Arenas and mixed-use shit doesn’t come cheap.