As bad as things are in Flint, Michigan – and they are REALLY BAD – in the past couple of weeks, they’ve gotten far, far worse. With the state of Michigan no longer subsidizing the city residents’ water bills having declared the water there now “safe” (it’s not), the city has now started charging residents again. Keep in mind that Flint has some of the highest if not THE highest water rates in the entire country. Not only that, if they don’t pay for the water that is making them sick and is still not safe to drink, they may lose their homes:
Following a water crisis that saw sky-high levels of lead contamination in Flint, Mich., many homes in the city still do not have access to safe tap water.
But that doesn’t mean they’re not being charged for it. And if they can’t pay in time, they may lose their homes.
The city has mailed 8,002 letters to residents in an effort to collect about $5.8 million in unpaid bills for water and sewer services. If homeowners do not pay by May 19, property liens are transferred to tax bills, which begins a process that can end with residents losing their homes unless they pay their outstanding bills before March 2018.
Flint generally sends these letters annually to property owners whose payments are at least six months late. But because Flint skipped this process in 2016, this year’s letters cover two years of past-due balances.
The letters came as a shock to some Flint homeowners who had already been struggling to deal with the public health crisis caused by contaminated water.
“While I understand this is the way that the law reads, we are in a totally different situation,” Melissa Mays, a Flint resident and activist, said in an interview with Fox 66 News, a local news affiliate. The city is asking her for $891.60 in overdue payments to avoid foreclosure.
“I got scared, for probably the first time since this all started,” Ms. Mays said. “This actually scared me.”
Melissa Mays has become a friend of mine through all of this and if she is scared, this is a BFD. Mays is a fierce and fearless warrior for the residents of Flint and has stared down countless frightening things in the long saga of the beleaguered city. As she made very clear in the interview we did with her on the podcast recently, not only is Flint’s water not safe due to lead contamination, there is an ongoing bacterial issue that is almost never discussed and that is, in some ways, as bad as the lead problem. It’s leading to myriad bacteria-related infections and illnesses and it is widely believed to have killed at least dozen people.
I contacted Melissa Mays to get her response to this newest outrage. “Putting profit over people still continues in Flint right along with punishing people for being poor or standing up for their family’s rights,” she told me. “Now the State is allowing 8,002 residents to lose their homes because they either cannot or refuse to pay the highest rates in the US for water that is destroying our bodies and homes. The State refuses to revoke their archaic law that allows a land grab to happen as a result of the state-created disaster in Flint including the financial distress by ending water subsidies to the City. The victimization of Flint residents continues as the Governor’s office turns yet another blind eye.”
She’s absolutely right. Putting this in perspective, the taxpayers of Michigan have so far ponied up over $12 million to cover the Flint Water Crisis-related legal bills of Gov. Snyder and others in his administration. However, they aren’t paying a dime to keep the victims of this human-caused disaster in their homes. And, to date, there hasn’t been a single response from the Snyder administration about this revictimization of Flint residents. On top of that, there are still as many as 20,000 homes in Flint that still have lead water service lines and who, because of this, are threatened with lead poisoning any time they come into contact with unfiltered water. And the final replacements aren’t expected to be completed until 2020.
To characterize this as “unacceptable” is to be far too charitable. This is an environmental injustice with few if any precedents. The state of Michigan caused this catastrophe and is now turning their backs on the people they poisoned. Gov. Snyder and his administration may want the world to believe that this crisis is over, that the water is now safe, and that everyone can just move on, but that doesn’t change the facts. This crisis is NOT over. The victimized people of Flint are NOT out of the woods. And the state of Michigan is responsible for making them whole again, to the extend that that is even possible.
Don’t let the people of Flint languish in the shadows, ignored and forgotten. Use your voices to keep this story at the front of everyone’s minds. And pressure your elected officials to fix this NOW. As we’ve said all along, if this had happened to an affluent community rather than a poor, majority African American community, we wouldn’t be having a conversation like this 588 days after the governor admitted that the drinking water in that community was poisoned with a powerful neurotoxin due to the actions and decisions of his appointed Emergency Managers.
This is a scandal of epic proportions and this country is being far too silent about it. Let’s fix that.