Challenging Injustice, Advancing Human Rights

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Don’t Deny Detroit Families’ Human Right to Water

April 21, 2015

Water is a human right. Yet, thousands of families in Detroit, Mich., have no water due to mass water shutoffs that put low-income people — including children, seniors, veterans, and people living with disabilities — at risk. UUSC and its supporters are asking President Obama to provide immediate assistance to stop the water shutoffs and aid families.

A little background: In December 2014, the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department (DWSD) reported that they had shut off water to 33,000 homes. These shutoffs — in a city where 38% of residents live at the federal poverty line — ignore the financial realities of low-income families and deny Detroit residents their human right to water.

A house without running water is deemed unlivable, so as a result of these shutoffs, families risk their children and aging relatives being removed from their homes. At the same time, due to the unaffordability of rising water service fees, they risk losing those very homes.

Evidence shows that the utility has overcharged residents and neglected repairs, resulting in further charges families should not be responsible for. On top of that, DWSD is offering unsustainable payment plans; some families have been required to pay 12–30% of their monthly household income for unpaid water services.

The petition asks President Obama to take the following steps:

  • Offer immediate assistance with utility bills and enforcement of affordability standards.
  • Support programs to stop foreclosures related to water bills and to address public health needs created by the shutoffs.
  • Instruct all relevant federal agencies to send representatives to Detroit to meet with residents during the solidarity convening May 29–30, 2015.

This crisis is growing, so it’s essential to take action today. In March 2015, DWSD announced in public meetings that they would pursue another 36,000 unpaid accounts. And it’s not just Detroit: Baltimore, Md., recently sent more than 20,000 water shutoff notices to low-income residents. What happens in Detroit is going to have implications for situations like these that are starting to happen in other cities throughout the country.

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