The water crisis in Flint, Michigan, forced residents into a concentrated media spotlight on a national stage. For a while, it seemed the state would at least work to save face by providing locals with clean running water. But the state is issuing residents eviction notices for failure to pay for water they can neither bathe in, cook with, or drink.
State government officials are forcing residents to pay for poisoned water that has caused irreversible damage, like development, psychological, and physical issues in children, due to the level of lead exposure.
As most media outlets focus relentlessly on national politics, Flint residents feel forgotten and believe pressure was taken off Michigan officials to address contamination, unjust debt, and water shut-offs.
According to a report from The New York Times, the city has sent 8,002 letters to residents in an effort to obtain $5.8 million in unpaid bills for water and sewer services. In the event that homeowners did not pay by May 19, “property liens [were] transferred to tax bills.” This started a process that could end with residents “losing their homes unless they pay their outstanding bills before March 2018.”
When pressed for comment, Flint Mayor Karen Weaver released a statement claiming that the requests for payment on overdue water and sewage bills were in line with city ordinance requirements. “The city continues to work with nonprofit partners that offer assistance to help residents pay their water/sewer bills”.
Melissa Mays, community organizer and founder of the clean water advocacy group Water You Fighting For, is one of the over 8,000 Flint residents who received a letter demanding that they pay for their contaminated water. Mays informed Shadowproof that the city demanded she pay $891 of her $2,057 water bill in less than 3 weeks or they would send a notice to have a tax lien put on her house.
“There was no notice ahead of time, and when I called, there was no way out of it,” Mays said.
Despite this, Mays started working with attorneys who offered to help her refuse the tax liens on the basis that households are being forced to pay for a service that they cannot use safely. They are also being charged the highest rates in the country for a product/commodity that has zero value. The attorneys do not believe these bills are legal.
“The state-appointed emergency manager and former mayor had illegally raised our water rates several times, and this was never fully remedied,” Mays explained. “Water You Fighting For is working with Flint Rising [and] other community groups to pull together more citizen action, like a new ordinance that protects residents and makes financial sense.” They are also organizing for a hearing to address these issues.
“We aim to stop the shutoffs, the tax liens, and the bills and have the State pay for the poison they are forcing upon us,” Mays declared.
While notices flood residents of Flint, Mays confessed locals feel forgotten, and their voices are overlooked in favor of coverage involving the current national political landscape.
“Since the attention died down, yet again, we have had people get their water shut off, including undocumented residents who were not even sent any information in their own languages.” The state has so far decided to stop paying for one of the two water systems that they forced on residents, and official are demanding that an impoverished and poisoned city “pick up the tab for everything,” Mays added.
“This forces the already victimized residents to pay for what was done to us, yet again. Since the state stopped paying the $1.2 million per month for Detroit’s water, this sent our city into even more financial problems, so they sent out shut off notices and tax liens (meaning the unpaid water bills can be added to the property taxes and a home can be foreclosed upon).”
“The city’s [chief financial officer] was found to be working with the state’s Receivership Transition Advisory Board that still controls our city on ways to increase water bill payments, even though the water is not safe. Threats were CFO [David] Sabuda’s great plan.”
Mays contended the only way Flint’s community can heal is for outside experts and government officials to stop lying about the water contamination and to instead listen to residents.
“All they want to talk about is lead,” Melissa asserted, but the bacteria and cancer-causing byproducts in the water are scarier to residents.
“As we speak, I have yet another respiratory infection. I had my water tested and it came back with high levels of the bacteria, Pseudomonas Aeruginosa and Acinetobacter Junii. So now I have an infectious diseases doctor that I have to see for my recurrent bacterial infections.”
This has become a common and painful reality that the state government ignores.
“The state refuses to test for anything in homes besides lead and copper. We can protect ourselves from lead but still face bacteria and chloroform in our showers,” Mays stated. “Until they tell us the truth and test for these things, we are in danger. And at the end of the day, we just want to protect our families and see the state of Michigan do something right and replace every single piece of plumbing and appliances they have destroyed and provide lifelong healthcare to all affected people.”
“We didn’t ask for this, and we certainly do not deserve the wet band-aid ‘fixes’ that have been tossed at us. We just want to be safe in our own homes again, and we need our families healthy.”