Written by Sean Thomas-Breitfeld
Last week, two Muslim groups donated $100,000 to help Detroit residents whose accounts are past-due with the city’s water department. The announcement from the two organizations – The Michigan Muslim Community Council and Islamic Relief USA – focused on the act of charity as an expression of their faith, and the money will certainly help many Detroit residents settle their bills. But beyond the value of the money, I wonder if the media’s interest in the generous donations can also remind us that the threat of water shutoffs and evictions is still very real for far too many Detroiters.
This past summer, the cruel water shutoffs emerged as a major story in the news. It wasn’t just that one of our most basic necessities was being taken away from tens of thousands of households in a city already in the midst of a bankruptcy crisis; it was the blatantly unfair decision of public officials to pick and choose who to go after for delinquent water bills. Even though a number of commercial and industrial accounts were past due and totaled nearly $10 million, the city’s water department went after resident first. The United Nations criticized the shutoffs for hurting the city’s “most vulnerable and poorest”, activists organized protests, and our colleagues at the Detroit People’s Platform issued this public letter, but eventually the shutoffs receded from the national news this fall.
The media’s re-discovery of the problem of water shutoffs may foreshadow even more crises facing Detroiters. In addition to the continuing water shutoffs, many Detroiters are facing the threat of record foreclosures. According to news reports, nearly 75,000 properties in Detroit and the surrounding county face “tax foreclosure” proceedings; meaning if owners don’t pay their back taxes, along with interest and fees, they’re at risk of losing their homes. Because Detroiters’ water bills are rolled into their property taxes, many of the same people at risk of having their water shutoff are also at risk of being evicted from their homes.
Activists are again organizing to get ahead of the impending wave of foreclosures. Linda Campbell and the Building Movement Detroit team will be joining other community groups doing outreach and door-knocking to let people know about the threat of tax foreclosure and inform them about the resources and organizations that can help them negotiate repayment with the county. The struggle continues in Detroit, whether the media’s paying attention or not.
Photo Credit: Romain Blanquart Detroit Free Press