The Spark

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.” — Karl Marx

In Detroit, Even a Glass of Tap Water Costs Too Much

Jul 7, 2014

In three months time, the Detroit city water system carried out a campaign of mass water shut- offs.

Water is as necessary for life as the air we breathe. To cut it off can only provoke a bigger public health crisis than what already exists in a city where the sewers regularly back up into the streets and emergency services are practically non-existent.

Of course, water system officials talked about “deadbeats,” and “shirkers,” and they yelled about a “non-payment” crisis.

There is a crisis, but it wasn’t caused by the population of Detroit, whom the water system is targeting.

Since the 1970s, federal money to pay for water infrastructure has been cut back by more than three quarters. So the Detroit water system, like systems all over the country, began to strong arm the population. The Detroit water system increased water rates by 119 per cent in ten years time. And people’s usage is padded by the fact that the water system has so many leaks that only a small part of what they were billed for was actually delivered.

On top of that, in different periods, the billing system didn’t work, so people weren’t sent bills. When they finally did get them, many people discovered they owed astronomical amounts.

In a city rife with poverty, where there is no money to spare, people could be hit by a bill for $8,000.

There are some customers, however, who haven’t been hit with any shut-off notice. They just happen to be the ones who owe the most: the State of Michigan, for example, owes five million dollars for the state fairgrounds, which it leases to Meijers and other stores. The Detroit Red Wings hockey team, which just got another subsidy from the city, owes $82,255. Ford Field, the home of the Detroit Lions football team, owes $55,000. City owned golf courses owe over $400,000.

These guys and other big debtors, in fact, owe most of the money not paid to the Water Department.

And yet the Water Department is coming for the poor people, shutting off their water, driving them out of their homes.

It’s enough to make you think they are trying to drive the poor people out of Detroit, to make room for the Dan Gilberts, the Fords, the Ilitches and all their ilk.