Activists speak out on Flint, Detroit water issues
Amid Michigan water crises including lead poisoning in Flint and shutoffs in Detroit, community activists and others spoke out Tuesday night against the failed leadership and poor practices they say contributed to the issues.
“We hope that more and more of us will be mobilized to stand against this,” said Gloria House, a professor emerita from the University of Michigan-Dearborn who is active with the group Detroiters Resisting Emergency Management.
Emergency managers, who are appointed when cities run into serious financial trouble, have continued to come under fire as Flint’s water crisis continues.
The city switched water sources in 2014 to save money under the leadership of a Gov. Rick Snyder-appointed emergency manager, Darnell Earley, who also has managed the financially troubled Detroit Public Schools. Activists have blamed state oversight for the district’s worsening finances.
That allegation was repeated at Tuesday evening’s event, which included a panel discussion. The issues in Flint as well as those in other struggling communities or school districts across Michigan with large minority populations “all lay at the feet of emergency management,” said Monica Lewis-Patrick, a community activist and founder of We the People of Detroit.
Video footage from a recent “People’s Water Tribunal” that found Snyder, Earley and others “guilty” of issues related to the water issues was shown.
ACLU of Michigan attorney Mark Fancher discussed an income-based water affordability plan that could help Detroit residents.
“If you don’t make it possible for people to pay what they can pay… the entire system loses money,” Fancher, who attended the meeting, said in a video presented Tuesday.
Earlier this month, The Detroit News reported that nearly a quarter of Detroit homes were behind on water bills, 18 months after the city began widespread water shutoffs for delinquent accounts.
The Great Lakes Water Authority last week approved the terms of a new assistance program for the region’s low-income customers. The $4.5 million Water Residential Assistance Program can help customers who are 150 percent below the federal poverty level — $36,450 for a family of four — by covering one-third of the cost of their average monthly bill and freezing overdue amounts.
Activists Tuesday said addressing the Detroit shutoffs remains an issue, even as Flint’s contamination has grabbed the spotlight in recent days.
“It’s just as much a danger here not to have water as having poisoned water,” Lewis-Patrick said.
Lakeisha Harris, a former Detroit resident, came with her young daughter.
“I was hoping to learn more about what we could actually do to get (Snyder) arrested or convicted,” she said. “This is sad.”
Learning more about community engagement and ways to speak out attracted Mike Koftinow, a graduate student originally from California. He feared the problems Detroit and other Michigan cities face indicate a disturbing trend.
“This is the beginning of degradation of democracy,” he said. “Michigan is the testing ground. ... This can happen anywhere.”