Monday, August 25, 2014

Temporary Restraining Order Filed Against DWSD

For immediate release:


Residents, Civil Rights Attorneys Urge Judge to Restore Water Services Until Litigation is Resolved

DETROIT – In an effort to preserve a moratorium on water shut-offs, a group of Detroit residents and civil rights attorneys filed court documents over the weekend asking a judge to immediately block the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department (DWSD) from terminating water service to any occupied residence, and to require the restoration of service to occupied residences without water. 

The moratorium is currently scheduled to end today. The ACLU of Michigan and NAACP Legal Defense fund are serving as expert consultants in the ongoing litigation.

“Without a continued moratorium on water shutoffs, thousands more Detroiters, mostly low income children, seniors, and disabled, will immediately be at risk for shutoff,” says Alice Jennings of Edwards & Jennings, P.C., counsel in the lawsuit, “A comprehensive water affordability plan, a viable bill dispute process, specific polices for landlord-tenant bills and a sustainable mechanism for evaluating the number of families in shutoff status or at risk for shutoff, is necessary prior to lifting the DWSD water shutoff moratorium.”

The motion for a temporary restraining order filed yesterday is part of a class action lawsuit, Lyda v. City of Detroit, on behalf of Detroit residents affected by the mass shut-off campaign of DWSD, as well as organizations active in the fight for the restoration of and affordable access to water including Michigan Welfare Rights Organization, People’s Water Board, National Action Network-Michigan Chapter and Moratorium Now!. This suit is currently in bankruptcy court before Judge Stephen Rhodes as part of the city’s bankruptcy proceedings.

The lawsuit argues that the DWSD began water shutoffs without adequate notice and against the most vulnerable residents, while commercial entities with delinquent accounts were left alone. The suit also argues that this violates the plaintiffs’ due process and equal protection rights. 

“More than 17,000 homes have had their water cut off and water bills in Detroit are among the highest in the country and unaffordable to many Detroit residents,” says Kary Moss, ACLU of Michigan executive director. “The rush to resume shut offs when there are serious questions about the affordability plan, accuracy of bills, and issues with the water department's ability to process disputes, means that the City of Detroit should get its house in order before turning off anyone else's water.”

In March, DWSD began dispatching private contractors to begin shutting off water service to residents who are more than 60 days delinquent, or owe more than $150. Despite the fact that 38 percent of the population lives below the poverty line, the shut-offs began without a plan to help those who cannot pay. 

After public outcry and this lawsuit, the city implemented a moratorium and announced a 10-point plan to address the dysfunctions raised by the lawsuit and civil rights groups.

"The mayor's plan only consists of proposals and temporary fixes,” said Rev. Charles Williams of the National Action Network-Michigan Chapter. “Until actual policies are in place to ensure that residents have access to affordable water, the water shut-offs cannot be resumed. The current proposal for residents to enter into non-negotiable payment plans is only a short-term solution."

Last month, the ACLU of Michigan and NAACP LDF wrote a letter to city officials arguing that that 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.

“DWSD must immediately restore water to all its customers,” said Sherrilyn Ifill, President of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. “In addition, they should create a reasonable timetable for a hearing and appeals process, pending resolution of these issues." 

Attorneys for residents are calling on Judge Rhodes to order DWSD to extend the moratorium to ensure that the most vulnerable Detroiters are not left without water. The moratorium on shut offs should be extended until DWSD has policies in place to ensure that collections are done in a way that doesn’t violate residents constitutional rights. 

Tawana Petty, an activist with the People’s Water Board Coalition, echoed these sentiments. "We are asking the Governor, Mayor, Emergency Manager and the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department to stop their assault on the citizens of Detroit and restore all water to residents. Water is life and without it, we perish.”

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

First the shutoffs, now the floods

As the old saying goes: when it rains, it pours. And boy, did it pour in Detroit yesterday! Southeast Michigan streets were flooded yesterday as severe storms poured into the Motor City and surrounding areas. Backed up sewer systems and blocked drains along major streets forced vehicles to maneuver through nearly two feet of water. There was nowhere to go as cars were turned around in all directions -- many becoming stuck and water-filled at underpasses, on dirt roads, rail road tracks and interstate highways.

A local photographer, Joe Gall captured many of these scenes.

This is all while we are in the moral fight for our lives to defend the human right to water. At least since March 2014, the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department (DWSD) has been shutting off water weekly to thousands of residents. Information about this international violation of human rights began to get out to allies and forces all over the country. With this support, local grassroots activists and attorneys were able to force DWSD, Emergency Manager and Mayor Duggan to revamp their customer service policies and institute a moratorium on shutoffs. The shutoffs are scheduled to resume on August 25 so we are bracing for new wave of despair. Meanwhile, local groups are delivering gallons of water to homes with newborn babies, seniors with serious medical conditions and persons with disabilities.

The People's Water Board, a coalition of over 20 Detroit community organizations, is supporting water stations, a hotline and canvassing efforts (led by We the People); challenging water shutoffs and DWSD debt in bankruptcy court (led by Moratorium Now). MWRO is still advocating for residents who've been shutoff that the water department won't assist.

How can a first world nation deny water to its residents? Follow what's happening in Detroit and we'll show you.

You can help by signing these water petitions or making a contribution to the People's Water Board. Thank you!

Thursday, August 7, 2014

MWRO Statement on DWSD 10 Point Plan

Today in Detroit, Mayor Mike Duggan and Detroit Water and Sewerage Department (DSWD) Director Sue McCormick announced a new 10 point plan for water payments and shutoffs for Detroit residents. We note: it does not meet the needs of restoring water delivery and stopping shutoffs to ALL low income residents. Read MWRO's statement on the 10 point plan.

Since March 2014, DWSD has been shutting off water to residential customers -- mostly low income households -- at the rate of several hundred to several thousand per week. MWRO, along with the Detroit People's Water Board Coalition, called for a halt to the inhumane water shutoffs. With support from the Council of Canadians, Blue Water Planet and Food & Water Watch, international attention to this violation of human rights was sent by a letter from the United Nations to DWSD. Netroots Nation with National Nurses United, Robin Hood Tax and actor Mark Ruffalo, helped expose the crisis to wider audiences.

Detroit and Michigan residents continue to fight vigilantly for the right to fresh drinking water in their homes! We know of teachers who wash laundry of school children from homes without water. Our organizational partner, We the People, tells of homes where newborn babies have no water for formula and seniors have no water to clean wounds. This is an outrage that we must not allow to continue.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Canadians Deliver Water to Thirsty Detroit Residents

Michigan Welfare Rights Organization welcomes allies and friends from the Council of Canadians and cities across Ontario, Canada as they deliver dozens of gallons of fresh water to Detroit residents whose water has been shutoff.

Welcome the Canadian Water Convoy to Detroit

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Sign Petitions to Stop Detroit Water Shutoffs

You've heard about the thousands of low income Detroit residents whose water has been shutoff by the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department (DWSD). These shutoffs have continued despite appeals from local residents, national groups and international organizations like the United Nations.

Please lend your voice and support to end these shutoff by signing one or more of the petitions below.
Your actions will demonstrate to the DWSD, the Detroit Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr, Michigan Governor Rick Snyder, and President Obama that people across the U.S. -- across the world! -- say water is a human right!

Without water, all life withers and dies within a few days. Babies, the elderly and people who are ill are especially vulnerable to disease and sickness. Whole communities are at risk of public health crises from a lack of proper sanitation and hygiene. Most of all, water is a natural resource that belongs to everyone and must be publicly managed by communities, not profiteers and corporations.

Thank you for defending the human right to water!

More Online Petitions: