Friday, October 24, 2014

MWRO Statement on UN visit to Detroit to investigate massive water shutoffs--Part 1

This is the first of a two-part statement from MWRO on the United Nations visit to Detroit by two Special Rapporteurs on Detroit water shutoffs.

On Oct. 20th, 2014, United Nations representatives Catarina de Albuquerque and Leilani Farha met with Mayor Mike Duggan and part of his staff to discuss the recent mass water shutoffs plaguing Detroit.
U.N. Special Rapporteurs. Photo credit: theguardian.com

The meeting was very frank and at times contentious with the Special Rapporteurs (SR) asking questions based on citizen/resident reports they had received from what they refer to as “civil society” organizations and direct visits to residential homes. The premise of the meeting was itself historic in that this was a session to discuss best practices, shared by the SRs, relative to how decreasing revenues might impact water access, distribution and sanitation specifically in low-income households. The two special investigators have amassed a myriad of expertise over the years after visiting many countries that have faced dwindling economies and transient populations.

Amid a flurry of “denials” and veiled attempts to discredit the intention(s) of these two specialists, the SRs continued to press for answers about recent water shutoffs. The session went back and forth until Mayor Duggan stepped up and suggested he would be interested in receiving detailed information about any current residents without water. The Mayor placed a call at the suggestion of the MWRO rep to the phone center and was able to get right through to someone without a long wait. This single act proved the City’s case that new practices are being put in place to address resident complaints — the problem is that these procedures aren’t reaching the poorest and most vulnerable residents. Long waits on the phone to the Detroit Water and Sewerage Dept. have been a frequent complaint and we hope, at least in this instance, progress is being made. In the end, what was suggested is that specific account information would be needed to examine any claims of denied water and the City would look into each case that was submitted.

Duggan and Wiley
Detroit Mayor Duggan with Alexis Wiley. Photo credit: clickondetroit.com


Since that historic session, several things have occurred. The City has issued statements that paint the Special Rapporteur’s visit as “nothing but a show.” One city employee, Alexis Wiley, the Mayor’s chief of staff, labeled their initial report as “sad” suggesting they were following a separate agenda that did not reflect the truth about water shutoffs in Detroit. Another City employee suggested that information gathered by talking with a few residents did not rise to actual truth, and that only through talks with the City were facts able to be put forward. Residential interpretations were not credible, in other words, and were not to be validated. There are none so blind than those who refuse to see!

In 2005, 2006, and 2007 — the Water Affordability Plan was submitted to the DWSD after is was tweaked and then accepted by the City Council and the then Mayor. Always, it is said there are legal reasons why this wonderfully crafted document can’t be implemented. And always when we ask, “Why not?” no credible answers are shared. The corporate interests that have lined up in great anticipation of receiving mega-infusions of cash is the logical place to search for the financial support needed to help shore up the City. Revenue sharing, unpaid commercial and corporate water accounts, so many places to look for untapped resources yet the then Emergency Manager’s only goal, it appears, was to inflict economic and physical pain on the most marginalized, most vulnerable, the poorest.

Over and over again, the City has suggested that those unable to find resources to help prevent shutoff or restore water already shut off were not truthful or that they were too dumb to find simple information. The old, tired, “people want free water” message was dragged out, a phrase that is repeated even though no one ever asked for that. It was revealed that the City has always practiced water shutoffs, and that was an established practice never before challenged. It was admitted that some 300,000 water shutoffs have happened over a period of years, a fact the City was not ashamed to admit. Must have felt the same rage and shock like those in the room in Nuremberg during that trial, listening to soldiers talking about how they were just following orders....
Shutting off water in Detroit. Photo credit: detroitnews.com

The Special Rapporteurs’ questions and the session ended in about 90 minutes, after which they traveled back to their hotel to prepare the press release for the media. Their specific UN conclusions are online, which include a strong recommendation that all residential water accounts be restored, which allows the City to investigate each address to determine if there are low-income families with children, the disabled, the elderly, or veterans living there who need supportive programs that structure payments they can afford. There are other recommendations the SRs offered, that have been published far and wide that address other ways of managing delinquent water payments that other nations routinely employ.

In closing, MWRO agrees with the basic, fundamental conclusion offered by our international guests. Because the population of Detroit has dropped, because the unemployment numbers have risen, because the good paying auto-industrial jobs have disappeared, and because many of the jobs available today are low-paying, the City still has a legal obligation to supply clean water and sanitation to all — even if only one resident is left! It is in fact a violation of international law to deprive residents of water if they are too poor to pay in the regular way. Ms. de Albuquerque and Ms. Farha were not daunted by Mayor Duggan and his staffs comments. Clearly, they don’t understand the UN reps’ mission.

This is not a popularity contest that is directed by who we like and who we don’t. It is patently wrong to disconnect water where low-income people live, and no amount of “American Exceptionalism” can alter that fact. There are millions of poor Americans who live in horrible conditions that are ignored daily while we act as if all is well; and Detroit has a large share of those families.

The responses coming from the City are at best shallow, defensive, ignorant, and at least, devoid of compassion. What kind of city is this and what kind of people are in charge who would countenance such demonic practices? Are our elected officials so drunk with power that they would choose not to find a way to keep the poorest residents safe and clean? Why didn’t someone in city government stand up when the emergency manager made this life-threatening recommendation and scream to the highest star how wrong it is and that as duly-elected officials, you would not force-march masses of Detroit residents into the crematoriums of poverty and torture?
Thousands march in Detroit against water shutoffs. Photo credit: michiganradio.org

Why did it take strangers, trained in recognizing violations against humanity, to shine a light on these dark-age practices and call them out for what they are? This is the best example of how the recognition of class differences have surfaced because we have different ethnic races of administrators, both men and women, both young and old who have been part of this sorry episode of residential infliction of pain. Our elected city officials would have found continued comfort in the torture of low-income people had they not had the covers of gross negligence pulled from them exposing what all knew but few had the courage to declare.

Along with our city officials stand many of the members of the clergy from all denominations, who have stood in silence while the torture of the most vulnerable has unfolded. The Spirit that many profess to serve has been waiting for you all to discover your courage or your voice or at least your crippled-hand gripped around a pen where you could author an anonymous note decrying what has been happening relative to these water shutoffs. I try daily to forgive your cowardice and hope only that when you make your transition to the afterlife, that the fires of “hell” are unkind to you.

We hope the legal violations identified by the two Special Rapporteurs find their way sooner as written charges to the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, and also to the U.S. State Dept. All nations should be alerted about these international violations so that sanctions might be discussed and even levied to make this practice stop. The U.S. government is ultimately responsible to secure the human rights of the most vulnerable and that task lies first with our ‘beloved’ mayor, then with the county executive, then with the governor, and lastly with all presidents.

As a field general in the army of social justice for vulnerable, low-income populations, it falls to me and mine to keep this battle in the face of all humanity and to take every opportunity to convince those in power that their salvation lies in distancing themselves from the “dark” side in favor of protecting, serving, and advancing the quality of life for all.

Maureen D. Taylor
State Chairperson, MI Welfare Rights Organization

Friday, October 10, 2014

U.N. Comes to Detroit on Water-Sanitation and Housing Crises

Detroit is in the midst massive water shutoffs, sanitation health concerns and large-scale tax & bank foreclosures tied to widespread homelessness. These grave problems have drawn international concerns about the crises affecting low income and poor people in Detroit. Victims of poverty across the state of Michigan are losing their very right to live. We have sought help from all levels of government, non-profit organizations and the private sector but no one has stepped forward to stop these violations on the human right to water, sanitation and housing.


It is abominable that government officials and the courts have allowed banks and corporations to dictate whether people can or cannot have affordable water in their homes, and keep a roof over the heads of children! Public resources that are intended to support programs for low income people are regularly diverted to investment programs for private profit instead of public good.

Along with the Detroit People's Water Board and Food and Water Watch, MWRO has asked the United Nations Office of Human Rights to hear testimonials from residents, and receive evidence of violations from advocates and groups on these human rights atrocities.

Please come to United Nations Detroit Fact Finding Public Town Hall Meeting on Sunday, October 19, 2014 from 4-6 p.m. (doors open at 3:00 p.m.), at Wayne County Community College District, 1001 W. Fort St, Detroit, MI 48226. For more info9rmation, contact MWRO at (313) 964-0618 or info@mwror.org Spread the word!

Monday, September 29, 2014

Statement on Court Denial of Detroit Human Right to Water

MWRO's statement on today's decision by the federal bankruptcy court NOT to stop residential water shut-offs, restore water to residential customers without water, NOR implement a water affordability based on fixed incomes for low-income seniors, families with children and persons with disabilities:

Judge Rhodes
Federal Bankruptcy Court Judge Steven Rhodes
Of course, we are not surprised that our capacity to seek relief from the Federal Courts no longer exists! The fact that low income customers were ushered into court and testified how miserable their lives were because water was cut-off without an option for them to make arrangements with the DWSD could not have impacted the Court because the Court concentrated on what the 1% needed to continue their reign of terror tied to the Emergency Manager and this bankruptcy ploy. 

This is the humanitarian crisis of our times here in America, where every step we take is being analyzed to see which fights we launch as the corporate class encroaches on our standard of living.

Denying specific populations access to clean drinking water was today deemed legal even though rich and wealthy water customers receive a different standard of treatment. Millions are owed by these corporate pirates while $150 and two months behind is the rule applied to our constituency -- a position clearly supported by the Federal Court.

Orr and Sndyer
Detroit Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr and Michigan Governor Rick Snyder
Poor people, their children, seniors, the disabled, veterans -- it doesn't matter -- if you can't pay for water, you can't have it. Go to the river with a bucket and get what you need still remains the sentiment by this draconian class and they have no shame in taking this position.  This sham court-case was just that...a plot to look like justice would prevail if we just had a chance to plead our case.  The answer was always going to be NO!!!

So what are we going to do...give up the fight for social justice?  We think not! 

In the movie, The Untouchables, the question was asked, "What are you prepared to do about this??" When brilliant lawyers went to court to file suit against slavery, and against lynching, at first the Court said "NO"...there is no enforceable right to not be lynched if that is the custom in that area of the country!  The Court's explained that with the laws on the books at that time, Blacks, Hispanics, Native Americans, women, children, and other oppressed folks should be able to manage their lives and avoid pain and suffering, and if not, they had every right to return to Court! Madness and Madness today! 

Our case demonstrated great attorneys, courageous plaintiffs, determined advocates versus conservative, corporate courts who prefer the company of the rich & famous and will not rock the "status quo."  We march on...

Maureen D. Taylor
State Chairperson - MI Welfare Rights Org

Photo credits: http://michigancitizen.com/mc/wp-content/uploads/2014/02/6-RHODES.jpg
http://www.commondreams.org/news/2013/07/24/stop-attack-say-detroit-workers-citys-bankruptcy-reviewed

Thursday, September 11, 2014

DWSD Regional Water Authority Is an Assault on Democracy and Human Right to Water


FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

September 10, 2014

Contact:
Lynna Kaucheck, Food & Water Watch, (586) 556-8805
Tawana Petty, People’s Water Board, (313) 433-9882


People’s Water Board Coalition Calls Regional Water Authority an Assault Against Democracy and the Human Right to Water
Community calls for protection and representation for all region’s residents

Detroit, Mich. – The People’s Water Board decried Mayor Mike Duggan’s plan to create a regional water authority as undemocratic and a threat to the human right to water for many in the region. We have access to the largest body of surface freshwater in the world, so it would seem abundance and access should not be an issue. However the manner of governing this valuable resource as responsible environmental stewards for the world has left many communities without trust.

The deal was negotiated behind closed doors without any input from the public and is the next step on the pathway to privatization. It takes away the rights of both the Detroit City Council and the citizens of Detroit to have input on big decisions impacting the system.

“Suburban customers should not be fooled into thinking that this deal gives them more control or influence over the water system,” said Lynna Kaucheck of the People’s Water Board. “The new authority will be made up of unelected officials who are accountable to no one. People need to know that this deal doesn’t take privatization off the table.”

Veolia Water North America, the largest private water company operating in the United States, has been hired to evaluate the management of the system and clearly has a vested interest in privatization. Privatization typically results in skyrocketing rates, decreased service quality and the loss of jobs. In fact, corporate profits, dividends and income taxes can add 20 to 30 percent to operation and maintenance costs, and a lack of competition and poor negotiation skills can leave local governments with expensive contracts. In the Great Lakes region, large private water companies charge more than twice as much as cities charge for household water service. This is not the solution for Detroit or the region.

“The regionalization plan is unacceptable. We need a system that is accountable and transparent and that works for all its customers,” said Tawana Petty of the People’s Water Board. “We want an elected board of water commissioners. We want to reduce costs for the region through bulk purchasing and resource sharing. And we want to implement the Affordability Plan as passed by Detroit City Council in 2005. Detroit and suburban leaders need to protect residents and democratize the system.”


The People’s Water Board advocates for access, protection, and conservation of water, and promotes awareness of the interconnectedness of all people and resources.
The People’s Water Board includes: AFSCME Local 207, Baxter’s Beat Back the Bullies Brigade, Detroit Black Community Food Security Network, Detroit Green Party, Detroit People’s Platform, Detroiters Resisting Emergency Management, East Michigan Environmental Action Council, Food & Water Watch, FLOW, Great Lakes Bioneers Detroit, Matrix Theater, Michigan Coalition for Human Rights, Michigan Emergency Committee Against War & Injustice, Michigan Welfare Rights Organization, Rosa and Raymond Parks Institute, Sierra Club, Sisters of Mercy, Voices for Earth Justice  and We the People of Detroit.


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Monday, August 25, 2014

Temporary Restraining Order Filed Against DWSD

For immediate release:

See http://www.aclumich.org/sites/default/files/DetroitWater-TRO.pdf



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 et.al 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.”